Last night I drank.
OK. You probably don’t need to alert the media. But I do need to alert you about the horrible effects alcohol can have on a person with bipolar disorder.
I’m human. I’ll admit it right now; I am. And one of the things this means is that I’m subject to human cravings and desires and occasionally I like to have a drink. It’s not the biggest deal in the world but it’s something that I shouldn’t do. But then, there are a lot of things in life that I shouldn’t do and I get tired of not doing them all.
And I was feeling weak and weary and tired of my own mind and my own troubles so I drank some gin. This is something that takes place in every restaurant, in every bar, in every pub, every day.
Of course, I’m not like those people. I’m a medicated bipolar. For me, drinking is more meaningful.
One Drink Equals a Lot
And one of the things about drinking is that one drink tends to do the work of many drinks for a person on bipolar medication. For a female, one drink does not, typically, put someone over the legal limit to drive, but for a medicated person it sure should. One drink on an empty stomach tends to hit me like a whole night of drinking. I go from sober to strawberry fields in minutes. Alcohol is like that.
And drinking also destabilizes bipolar disorder. Alcohol is one of the things doctors tell you to avoid, not just because they’re doctors and they’re like that but because alcohol can induce bipolar mood swings. It’s a drug. And not a very nice one at that.
Alcohol and the Brain
And alcohol is not a simple, clear-cut drug either. It works in your brain and throughout your nervous system on GABA, dopamine and other neurotransmitters critical to mood and well-being.
Alcohol Impairs Thought
Well, duh, you’re saying – that’s why you drink it! But it doesn’t just impair unpleasant thoughts; it impairs useful trains of thought as well. Like all those great cognitive behavioral therapy skills you’ve been practicing don’t work so well after a martini. It tends to leave you both shaken and stirred.
And so, I found myself drowning out unpleasantness only to find myself wrapped in a cloak of greater, more salty, unpleasantness. Sure, I had been tired of my usual place in the world but I had failed to take into consideration how carefully constructed that place was. How much work it takes for me to beat back all the bipolar thoughts I have every moment of the day. I take for granted that I’m doing it. Because now, beating back the thoughts that would try to kill me is like breathing.
And alcohol undid my breathing.
Which makes alcohol dangerous. Not dangerous because of what it inherently does to you, but dangerous because of the way it compromises control over your own brain. Your control. The thing that keeps you whole. The thing that reminds you that your kids matter. The thing that remembers that pain is temporary. The thing that prevents you from hurting yourself. The control that keeps you upright and in one piece.
Now I am fine, of course, no reason to panic. I just got slapped upside the head with a reminder. Drinking is bad. Drinking will get my cheeks wet. Drinking will cause me suffering. No matter how seductively it promises to take my pain away. It’s a big liar.