Bipolar Disorder and Drinking

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.

Drinking Alcohol

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.

CB106470One 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.

Last Night

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.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

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76 Responses to Bipolar Disorder and Drinking

  1. sarah says:

    I buried my love of my life two weeks ago due to alcohol and his mental illnesses. He was diagnosed with bipolar along long time ago. He had multiple suicidal episodes that landed him in hospital on a bunch of those occasions. This past year with me he did these threats multiple times. I tried everything from feeding in to going against but he liked the dramatics and I assumed he was doing it for a reaction. And this time he did. He was only like this when drinking. Sober, he was perfect! Short temper but nothing a relationship doesn’t deal with. He was making huge progress last year. Graduating school, getting job right away in field, staying on meds, traveling, working on paying off debt and increasing credit. Yes I helped him a lot to go through it but he made the choices to achieve them. He would go month or months with no drinking because he knew it didn’t mix well with his head but once a relapse happen and something wouldn’t go his way, a switch would flip and he turn into different person. Yelling at me in front of friends. Accusing me of being with other guys . calling me bad names. But he was never like that sober. He was quiet actually and alcohol changed him! I wanted to leave him after each time but I knew the real him as a person and I loved that guy. But I just couldn’t stop it this time. I even put myself in danger and wrestled him twice for the gun. He was black out by then. Just like every time. He went one step further and actually pulled the triggar. Had he been sober, he wouldn’t do this. Alcohol released the demons. I really want to bring awareness to mental illness that it is OK to admit it and to seek help. He was coping with this mental illness just fine. medical Marijuana helped him alot too. But please take these attempts serious. I did ever time but obviously not enough to stop what had happened. I believed he was maybe more borderline personality disorder but he could of had both. He was never sad sober. Sure he had his off days but who doesn’t? Alcohol is not worth it.

  2. sarah says:

    Forgot to add… I am 28. he was 31. I should of gotten rid of guns but I thought he changed up to that night . . . If only we would of thrown him into treatment for good. What ifs will be my life for now on but I know that won’t help me cope. I’m just glad he had an awesome last year and got to feel real love. I hope he believed it. He had his doubt’s and he always needed reassurance but at least we got to say ‘I love you’ every. Single. Day. Rip baby

  3. Laura says:

    Christina would love to chat ;) you sound so like me and maybe we could share thoughts my email is laurawright210@yahoo.Co. UK

  4. Mike says:


    So sorry for your loss and what you went through. Yeah alcohol can release demons. I think for bipolar folk those demons are always there though so I would not say alcohol killed him but his demons/illness did. The promise of brief reprieve from torment and alcohol can be strong. The inhibitions come down and all the uncontrolled emotions rush in like a ferocious tide. Each time it rages in and out it causes damage and bipolar people get weary of the rollercoaster, guilt anger etc. .

  5. Charmaine says:

    I’m suicidal guys help I’m iv bin depressed for a wik nw

  6. Hi Charmaine,

    I’m so sorry to hear you are depressed and suicidal. I know how hard that is. You need to reach out. You need to call a helpline or talk to a professional immediately. Please find our helplines and resources page here:

    - Natasha Tracy

  7. hami ham says:

    I am 25 now made 25 on vals day I have the symptoms and all that ranging from hitting walls when am annoyed in a bid to calm ma self wit the pain to hating the world and my self at given times. I have never taken any medication and I still get manic episodes ma biggest worry is that maybe ma parents will not take me seriously if I told them and also the fact that here in uganda we may have very few who have some knowledge about the disorder am planing to go to hospital abt it but I ain’t sure if its the best idea though pliz advice

  8. jess says:


    Please do call a help-line and ck into the resources given. You can get through it, may feel like the end of your world, but it’s just not, keep going sweetheart. I send much love to you. It’s okay, breathe in this next moment and know that there is hope.

  9. Zizi says:

    Hi Sarah pls e-mail me I have the same problem u had maybe I think it might help talking to Someone who actually understands what I’m going through


  10. jane says:

    My 33 year old daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 16. Very few period of stability in all these years. She has 3 children that I have custody of. She’s made horrible choices, e end leading to a 15 year prison sentence. She still didn’t learn a thing. She is an addict, and has used since a teen. She is facing prison if revoked but still she’s now been drinking heavily for well over a year. She was drinking into the wee hours of the morning, then driving with my grandchildren in the car. We had to take the car away as it was also in my husband’s name. We don’t allow her to have kids anymore unless supervised, so she refuses to come see them. They are 16, 12, and 7. The middle one was physically and sexual abused by her second husband who is in prison on drug charges that also sent her to prison. They had a meth lab in the home with my grandsons living there. She has stopped taking all meds but her lamictal, but the drinking has long since made it stop working. We had to just walk away and let her go. I know things will possibly end up being bad for her but she refuses to listen. Don’t know what else to do. At least the kids are safe and stable here.

  11. Kristine says:

    I married to a man that has a bipolar .when he is sober he is loving ang caring person.but when he is drunk he is abusive verbal and physical and just recently the physical was very traumatic that my memory shut down at that moment.i woke up in hospital asking why i was there thanks god im alive and still normal but i have trauma wich i cant remember what happen on the time of waiting for hospital result.this incident happen 2 weeks ago.we had our 1st court trial and his at the mental hospital for observation…his friend told me to file a divorce but i love my husband and wanted him to family is scared of my husband what if we will be together and he will end up killing me.i do not know what to decide at this time.

  12. christylynn says:

    I have been with a bipolar man on and off for 2 years. We both enjoy drinking but somehow it normally ends badly. If we start off arguing I drinks more to try and ignore the problem and I end up drinking to the point at which I do not remember what happened. This occasionally leaves me with bruises and I even once climbed out his window while he was out of the room because I was so scared. We currently aren’t speaking and I am going to aa meetings and reading how to respond to his bipolar episodes. I know he declines when we are not together and so do I so my only thought right now is getting alcohol totally out of the picture. I pray that this helps.

  13. Mike says:

    My partner of 14yrs, tried to deal with grief by drinking 18mths ago. She found herself doing things, and going places that any person in a relationship would never do. Now I’m no angel, but I found I was on the border of domestic violence coping with the vile abuse. After nearly a year of deceit and infidelity she was done for DUI.
    It was here she was diagnosed with depression and bi-polar. I haven’t dealt with it very well, going on stupid w.sites haven’t helped. But she continues to drink, not everyday(her dr says only on special occasions) a few times a week. I feel that by her still drinking she is not remorseful for her actions over the past year, shes just so argumentative when she drinks. Am I wrong to assume this. I just want my old partner back, medicated or not.. She just thinks everyone is against her..
    I ask her to stop drinking-I’m told I’m just being controlling. I only want an affectionate loving partner I had. Not to mention the damage its doing to our 11yr old son……?

  14. Chris says:

    I drank at a friends wedding, and cheated on my girlfriend. I dont remember most of it, but apparently i said some horrible stuff when i was walked in on. I always thought i was inherently a good guy, but after that, i feel subhuman. Im unmedicated for my bipolar right now. Ive decided to give up drinking for good. I was wondering if anyone else has had a blackout where you say and do things you would never do with a clear head. My friends told me later i was a completely different person. A bad person. This scares me quite a bit. 29m. Thanks alot everyone.

  15. Roxanne says:

    I black out almost every time I drink. I don’t know how to just stop at one or 2, I go on a full out binge and ppl tell me about how mean I was and I try to fight anyone around me. I’ve been in 2 car accidents and countless number of suicide attempts due to drinking. It can cause a depressive episode to happen. I actually drank last nite and now I’m really hating myself. I’ve been stressed, have a 4 month old and was already going through a slight depression and my hormones are going crazy on top of that but now I’m really feeling it as a full blown episode. I seriously CANNOT drink, I’m going to destroy my life if I continue this. I layed in bed all day today crying my guilt away just absolutely hating myself :(

  16. Kimani says:

    Drinking is really bad and impairs a persons way of judgement. Thats bain. Bipolar or Not its not the best way make you forget the pain and stress. Very nice article.

  17. Susan says:

    I never knew how much my bp episodes correlated to my cycle. Medicinal marijuana that I used for chronic pain made it worse (for me) … Only Meds so far that have helped cause me to have a flat affect and gain an enormous amt of weight. Others I’m allergic to–such as lamictal :( … Suicidal Ideations are a daily struggle, but I’ve got a great therapist, psychiatrist, and a safety plan in the works…also have access to a good hotline to call for help–each day is an uphill battle

  18. The forgotten one says:

    I don’t known what I have. I’m currently a 23 year old male who just graduated from a university. I have a 2 year old daughter. I’m not with my daughter’s mother because of my bad decisions and drinking habits. Before we separated I never used to drink a lot. Yea I would drink every now and then. After we separated my drinking became from every now and then to everyday. I have a new girlfriend now. Known her for about 8 months and made it official for 2 months. I gotta admit she’s one of the best persons I have ever met. She has a genuine heart and she is always there for me. I’ve never been medically treated or diagnosed of any medical conditions. There have been changes in my drinking. I show so much anger, hate and just become agreesive. I don’t have control over my drinking. It’s like I don’t know how to stop. I’d imagine that I should be different since I just achieved a B.A. in higher learning.
    I need help I’m finally admitting that I need help. This anger is destroying my happiness. It starting to make me act like when I was at the end of my relationship with my daughter’s mom. Not to forget, she left me on the day my daughter was born. I don’t blame her. I would of left me too. I’m afraid of losing my current girlfriend. Though I’ve only known her for a short amount of time compared to my daughter’s mom (know for 7 years and dated for 6. We were high school sweethearts).
    I lashed out a few days ago towards my girlfriend and mother. This isn’t me. When I’m sober I know how to control my anger and avoid violent episodes. I need help but I’m embarrassed to seek help. I feel like I’ll be ridiculed or humiliated in front of the people who mean the most to me. I kinda just want to talk to someone. Have someone listen to me. Maybe a stranger would be better cuz they don’t know my life and I don’t know there’s.

    Oh yeah, I got my 1st DUI on mothers day, three weeks before my graduation. Maybe I am bipolar or depressed. Not sure but I feel like I’m at the lowest point of my life. However I’m looking forward to going to a.a. classes and speaking with counselors. Not the best way to seek help but the state is recommending it to me so I’m taking those recommendations as an excuse to seek for help.

  19. Heath says:

    bipolar had it ever since i was 17 i stoped doing drugs then the signs showed up i have been in some the worst pain can imagine years went by with out help and its still does they finally gave me some meds that kind help once they found out what i had after so many years doctors are a joke lol but i quit drugs quit smoking i work out as much as possible i stay in my room all the time avoid every one and every thing what is the point of this dont know but i keep going on and yea i got into drinking every day i will go omnths with out drinnking or weeks at moment i drink a day take a day or two off drink 9 colt 45s alot less than what i used too counts for something i guess but still trying kick the habbit i know i feel so much better when i dont drink for long periods of time just bad habbit to kick ill be damn going kick it one day really need get my shit together i cant just keep sitting in one room all day laying down watching tv and playing video games oh well just trying get by day to day

  20. Heath says:

    and forgive the lack of grammar but to tired even try fix it lol bipolar makes you tired in ever thing you do but if there is something i can tell someone suffering with it as i have sorry and just keep going on do not give this world the satisfaction of saying it beat you just keep going on how ever miserable it is worth it for the small moments of joy you get once in a blue moon and never know maybe something will just click for you and will figure out how to beat this shitty illness anyways hang in the every one with this trust me i know more than anyone what you have been threw and no one can understand unless they have had it too and seems everyone want to put you down at every turn for having something you have no control over anyways keep on keeping on

  21. George says:

    You guys have no idea how inspiring this thread has been to me. I just turned 32 and have been dealing with exact symptoms of BP all my life. I strugglle with overdrinking and all kinds of substance abuse with the excuse that it numbs out all the anger, resentment, and regret only to be fiercely reminded that alcohol especially, only adds to it

  22. George says:

    You guys have no idea how inspiring this thread has been to me. I just turned 32 and have been dealing with exact symptoms of BP all my life. I strugglle with overdrinking and all kinds of substance abuse with the excuse that it numbs out all the anger, resentment, and regret only to be fiercely reminded that alcohol especially, only adds to it. I haven’t been diagnosed yet bc until recently, I never knew what it was that was wrong with me. I was in the Marines where I struggled with all of this but a perfect place to hide and get lost within. I had been dealing with raging uncontrollable anger and immense depression for as long as I can remember but it wasn’t until I recently started dating someone wonderful who after dealing with all my horrific “episodes” finally solved the puzzle for me. “I think you are bipolar.” No one ever wants to hear that something is wrong about them, especially me who takes everything to heart and is hugely closet emotional. It takes nothing to tear me down. I always knew something was “off” about me but would either smoke (the only thing that helps) or drink those feelings “away.” While I was in the Marines toward the end of my enlistment, things got really bad. I had never had a panic attack but one day while on my motorcycle no less, I had one and trust me, it is one of the worst feelings ever. I was luckally able to pull over on the side of the road where I began to cry uncontrollably. I knew then something was seriously wrong. I went to medical where I superficially and shamefully tried to tell them I was broken. They quite literally ignored me and told me to seek treatment soon after I got out bc I was very near my 8.5yrs service. I took down an email that I was referred to contact on a piece of paper and went on my way. I figured hey, I sought help and this is all I got? Being in the Marines, I figured that they probably got this all the time from people trying to get PTSD (which is what I initially thought it to be) to get compensated and didn’t believe me bc I didn’t try to “sell” it hard enough. I didn’t try because I really do have something wrong with me; something I am ashamed to admit. Right before I was to get out, I was desperate and didn’t know what to do. The Marines weren’t helping me, my family was in another state, and the only one who never left me was “trusty Mr. Coor’s light” was they only one I had but at this point even he had been turning its back on me “making me” do stupid things. I am ashamed to admit but I contemplated and acted aspects of suicide. I hated myself and only felt sorrow for those very few who still stood next to me and dealt with this other side of me. May God bless them for the rest of their lives; wherever they are. I sought help else where; weed. Being in CA, weed was incrediblely easy to find. I felt horrible and shameful about considering it and the consequences but I was so desperate at this point that I was willing to try Any. Thing. Weed seemed to help right away. I was happy and at PEACE for once. I didn’t have to worry about the angry “me” who would always black out and try to fight everyone. To make a long story short and worse, ultimately shortly there before leaving the Marines I was caught and charged with possession of marijuana and kicked out of the Marines. I served 8+yrs did 3 tours and countless other deployments and at the end of it all, I didn’t even get a handshake but a Go F*ck Yourself. That occurrence has been by far the biggest amongst many other, disappointments in my life. I have never told anyone this story and don’t intend to. I did so here because for once I think I am beginning to understand who and why I am. I don’t feel so alone and alienated anymore. For those reading, thank you for your time, and for those like me, may you gain perspective, strength, and courage to continue fighting. Find a reason or a purpose to hold on to. Never quit. May God bless you all.

  23. Stephanie says:

    I have bipolar disorder, anxiety and chronic pain from endometriosis. This thread is very inspiring. I’m glad I’m not alone. I’m 29, I’ve had issues with self medicating since I was 14. I can’t drink but I did Saturday night. For me, I respond to alcohol depending on who I’m with. So my behavior was spastic but my friend always knows how to diffuse my behavior. In the past reckless behavior led to being raped. I also just got out of a really abusive relationship. He’s bipolar and unmedicated, we had drank before and he got crazy!! Mean, he would have hallucinations that I was cheating on him and I never did. He blames me for the break up and that hurts. I’m not perfect but I tried to help him and he just verbally abused me. I finally had to let fill after hundreds of abusive emails. He is sweet and kind wherein sober but mean when drunk. So back to me, one time I drank and I black out each time. I woke up with bruises and cigarette burns on my hand. I was in black out and my ex said I started self harm. I can’t remember and I don’t know why I wanted to do that. That’s scary!! I’ve tried to commit suicide under the influence. Yesterday i felt suicidal. I’m still feeling extremely down, wanting to self medicate uppers to feel better but I won’t. I have bipolar 2 , so I have more down episodes than manic. So my main addiction was stimulants. Took 14 years of my life. I feel guilty, ashamed and I knew before I drank that I didn’t want to but I did anyway. Thank God I was with a safe friend. She doesn’t really understand that I could die if I but that’s my fault for not truly explaining it. So anyways here I am, totally mentally exhausted and feeling pain. I hate myself when I sabbatoge my own life. I’m my own worst enemy. Thanks guys for sharing your experience and reading my post. Much love to my fellows who suffer as I do. I know it will get better but it doesn’t feel like that right now. The only thing keeping me from not hurting myself last night was my ten year old niece who is like a daughter to me.

  24. Stephanie says:

    Sorry I missed some words in my text, I’m so tired but I’m sure you can see what I’m trying to say.

  25. Dennis says:

    Sitting here at 115 am.was sober 22 days record for me.diagnosed 10/99 but I know I’ve been all my life just no name for it diagnosed late in life at 48, 64 yrs old now but always functioned. Worked, military, kids but it was always there. Found great doctor, different meds till right mix.still smallest stress hard to handle. Great support from wife and children but rest of family couldn’t accept or believe. Still wonder why me,afraid longest time weakness, old school thinking, deal with it, have to find the right doctor and if you’re not comfortable with him/her move on. Life is short. Best to you all❤

  26. Mary says:

    Thank you to everyone sharing their stories. Mine is different. I found this site trying to help my friend. She is married to a good man, and has 3 adult children. She was diagnosed as Bipolar in her 20′s – she’s in her mid 50′s now. We became casual friends about 15 years ago, and she seem confident and fun. My husband and I got closer to her and her family, to where we were taking trips together, camping, etc. In the last few years, she had family that moved back in that caused her stress. Then she lost her job. In the past year, she began drinking on a daily basis. She said she wanted to be off her meds completely (which I found out later she had stopped taken several months earlier). So now she stays at home, drinks during the day, and when her husband comes home from work she barrages him with accusations, argues with him, says horrible things to him, and accuses him of cheating on her. He confides in my husband, and I know only a fraction of what really happens behind closed doors, but he is struggling to find a reason to stay in his marriage. When she is sober, she is great. But the drinking, even a small amount, turns her into a different person. At our last outing (at a vacation home) she had been drinking, and proceeded to tell me what a horrible husband I had and that he needed to apologize to her. Her verbal assaults have now gone away from her spouse and are directed towards mine. I really would like to be a good friend, but I also need to draw a line with her behavior towards my husband. My belief is that she self-medicates/over medicates (Xanax). How do I help her? How do you help someone who purposely refuses to take the proper medication, refuses to see a therapist, and drinks a lot? Also, what kind of doctor should she be seeing? Is a general family physician the right type of doctor to see? I think she needs to be seen, her meds regulated, and start some type of therapy to talk to a professional and work through her issues. I hate to lose a friend, but she’s not really the person I met all those years ago. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Good luck to each and every one of you!

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