Mental Health Blogs

Bipolar Disorder and Drinking

Last night I drank.

Alcohol.

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.

This entry was posted in Coping, Impact of Bipolar, Medication Side-Effects and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Bipolar Disorder and Drinking

  1. fetdav says:

    I have a bipolar husband and I completely agree that alcohol makes it worse.

    As well as bipolar, he’s ocd and though he’s not a physical abuser, I almost wish he was. His verbal abuse is way more harmful than being hit. You can’t take back what you say and when he adds alcohol he’s twice as bad. There is no such thing as a good drunk. My philosophy is instant asshole, just add alcohol and that fits most drunks I know to a tee. When you add a psychological to drinking the bipolar becomes more pronounced and makes for a very bad situation.

    I’m now trying to end this disaster of a marriage but he won’t leave. I don’t want to get the police involved because he might become physical. I’m going to talk to a psychologist myself and see if he has any ideas on how I can end this on a more amicable note. I don’t want to end my life, I want to end my marriage while I’ve still got some sanity. I’m losing my mind fast. Your damned if you do and you’re damed if you don’t

  2. Sarah says:

    I have an ex who used to get mean when he got drunk. Didn’t start until six months in. He did it twice. Now he’s an ex. And I’m happily married to a wonderful man. Stay strong and get out! P.S. not all bipolars are like that.

  3. Maggie says:

    Alcohol works better than any psychiatric drug !

    I’ve read your posts re: when the pain is so great that you can’t go on, have given up, don’t shower or brush my teeth … just breathe. And I agreed with you and all the comments.

    But when the pain goes on and on and on ad infinitum, alcohol relieves that pain, if only for the time being. It saves me. It give me a break.
    My mind can at last rest. No other drug can do that … can take me away into a pleasant place … can actually put a little smile on my face.

  4. Linda says:

    Hi,
    I am struggling with alcohol dependency and bipolar I depressive/suicidal symptoms at present. I really want some inspiration as to how much better I will feel as a bipolar off alcohol. My worst problem is obsessive ruminations over past wrongs (towards me). Alcohol seems to numb the brain pain associated but does it make them worse?
    Any ideas, inspiration, resources (web,etc) much appreciated.
    Thanks.

  5. Hi Linda,

    I can understand that alcohol numbs the pain and I can understand you wanting to do that. But that numbing is a mask and it will never truly make the pain go away. It’s only when you’re sober and can truly deal with those issues that you can rid yourself of them for good.

    I hope you’re getting therapy because they can support you and can help you get past these issues. Also, you might want to look into support groups, possibly through the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).

    You are not alone. Many people are struggling with same issues you are. Addiction and bipolar disorder are common together. You will find people who are just like you.

    And if I can just say one more thing from personal experience: I had to watch my father, a bipolar and alcoholic, drink his life away and be sad his whole life long because he could never deal with the pain with all the alcohol piled on top. It saddens me greatly that he could never find the peace he deserved because of the alcohol. Don’t be like him. You deserve better.

    - Natasha

  6. Lily Grace Chao says:

    Hi Linda,

    I was like you – a drinker. I love drinking hard drinks until I pass out. Last month, I have emotional breakdown and I bought one bottle of Vodka, but I didn’t continue it. Think about this – Not only that affects your mental,.. think about your liver also. It will kill your life. If you want to live longer, be kind to your liver.

    I don’t drink until at this very moment. My last was last April and it had proven me that drinking affected the way I’m thinking.

  7. KG says:

    Linda: alcohol is a terrible drug culturally and physically. it’s also really, really bad for us Type 1s. I struggle with it myself, and it does provide temporary relief, but I pay a high price for a few hours of numb. alcohol gets you to sleep, but also disrupts its quality and jacks up mania the follow day(s). I find sanity needs a solid foundation of sleep, which is not always easy to come by with a mood disorder. alcohol perpetuates and compounds manic symptoms.

    I recently read Anne M. Fletcher’s book Sober For Good, which outlines many sobriety pathways and resources. I recommend it, it’s helped me start shifting my thinking and behavior.

  8. Linda says:

    Thanks so much to you both, your words ring very true and I am really sorry about your father, Natasha. Well done on not drinking, Lily Grace!
    Yes, i saw my therapist today and am not drinking tonight and am committing to 30 sleeps, as per an online blog, without alcohol. These obsessions have gone too far. I have been going to mindfulness lessons and it’s going to have to be the way to handle any fall-out but I am optimistic that I can do this!
    Thanks again.

  9. Linda says:

    Thanks, K G. I will check it out and I agree that self-medicating for sleep is another convenient thing about drink.

  10. kevin says:

    I was drinking pretty hard, to ease the pain and make me feel normal. I quit in december and have had a few relapses, nothing major. I am on 1800mg of lithium and 1000mg of gabopentin. I have been medicated for 3 months, it is very difficult, the changes in your life, the things that are so much different now. It is scarey and hard to understand why it has to be this way. I will keep going and hope that someday soon, i will understand what it is all about.

  11. Marc says:

    My wife has Bi polar and we have three young children who have all seen Mum get bent out of shape when she drinks. She stopped for a while but now it is becoming a problem again, we seem to be ok through the day but it turns to shit at night and she only has to have half a glass of wine. It stresses me out and the our 12 and 9 yr old watch her like a hawke. All i wish for her is to stop and have a nil alcahol life as it hightens her mania and she won’t listen??????????????

  12. sathish says:

    i am sathish
    i have mood disorder but i dink alco very much and take my medication also if any one knows its said effects tell me pls…..

  13. Kelly says:

    Hello to all,

    I had been struggling with awkward mood swings and at times I wanted to die. After being misdiagnosed and then finally gotten answers I was told I was Bipolar Type 2.

    THERE ARE MANY TRIGGERS THAT CAN EASILY WORSEN BIPOLAR;
    I have noticed if I drink at least ONE drink, the next day I will be depressed all day.
    ONE DRINK OR ANY SIP OF ALCOHOL IS WORTH IT.

    THINK ABOUT THIS. How long does it take you to at least find some peace and be stable. Then by doing something like having one drink of alcohol all the bad things that can happen from one drink. Well at least this is what happens to me.

    BIPOLAR IS A MONSTER THAT SEEMS TO BE FOLLOWING YOU ALL THE TIME. It follows you wherever you go at anytime of day. The thing is trying to keep that MONSTER FROM TRIGGERING AND ATTACKING YOU.

    I am 22 and it is very difficult to live with this mental illness. Episodes of depression or mania last for who knows how long. The thing I say to myself when I GO THROUGH AN EPISODE IS:

    ” IT WILL GO AWAY. I AM STRONG. I WON’T LET IT HURT ME. YOU CAN ATTACK ME BUT YOU CAN’T BREAK ME.”

    MY POINT IS DONT DRINK ALCOHOL, GET 8 hrs of sleep, don’t watch depressive movies, eat three meals a day, surround yourself with loved ones, keep your head up, take your medication, and MOST OF ALL IN YOUR HEART AND BRAIN THERE IS A LITTLE PART THAT CONTAINS PEACE WITHIN YOU.

    MAYBE SOME OF US WILL ALWAYS BE CHAINED DOWN TO THIS BIPOLAR,it’s a chain that might never be broken BUT A CHAIN THAT ONLY A FEW OF US CARRY BECAUSE EVEN WHEN WE ARE AT OUR WEAKEST, WE CARRY IT AND IT MAKES US STRONGER!

  14. Kelly says:

    ONE DRINK OR SIP OF ALCOHOL IS NOT WORTH IT!!!

  15. catsrgreat says:

    This problem with alcohol must vary, because I occasionally have a beer when I’m in severe depression or not, and I don’t get mean and the bipolar doesn’t get worse. The vast majority of psychiatrists I’ve had said it was fine to have a glass of wine with my husband at dinner. In fact, only one thought it was a bad idea. I kept detailed mood charts for years, including alcohol use as a factor, and it never made me worse. I just asked my husband and he said I never get mean or any other problems when I have alcohol. I have a beer or two, or one or two 5 oz glasses of wine maybe once a week or less. All of what I say was true whatever meds I was on and still the same now that I gave up on those drugs.

  16. Sharyn says:

    My wonderful husband is bipolar, I see a family history of it. As stated above, only 2 shoves, but the verbal abuse hurts to the bone and out the other side. Once there is a beer involved, blamm-0, he is toxic and a raging monster and I am on the run. My analogy is that I am a gazelle on the Sarhengehti running for my live while the raging lion is chasing me to rip me to pieces. Enough said.

  17. Tyler says:

    Hi I am also bi polar it’s extremely difficult to keep jobs. I have worked everywhere.To find a job is like breathing to myself it comes so easy for me. But I only last at a place of work for on average 3 months and then I get overwhelmed. I feel as if I’m trapped and I often leave. I was an alcoholic for years and have finally decreased my intake substantially. If i drink i drink alone because I find myself getting out of control when intoxicated around others. My moods and thought process like a light switch turns and turns towards this demonic being. My voice lowers and I’m in a state of mind that I cannot get out of.I am fine with a couple beers but if I exceed that amount I instantly am depressed. I used alcohol for years to control my racing thoughts. not to sound conceded but I have no problem getting women but my relationships never last due to my behavior. Is their any solution and by solution I’m referring to medications that do not nock me out and put me in a zombie like state of mind?

  18. Strawverry says:

    I didn’t think I would read all the comments here today and I have anyway. Reading is not my forte recently, bipolar affects me that way. most of these comments have been made by those seeking, those hoping or those desperate, maybe i am all of these or perhaps i am learning. if there is one thing i am learning now (after a recent possible diagnosis of depression/bipolar/mood/personality disorder) it is that we all feel it. Sometimes it is your feelings, sometimes it is the feelings of others, sometimes it is what you are being told by other people or your perceptions of their feelings. I think it may not be that complicated. If we break this all down into the fundamentals we see mania – a belief that we/i are capable of anything that the individual/i may think, also we see self doubt – nothing will be possible because that individual/i am incapable of anything and we may also find ourselves feeling that we are ‘good’ in a way that we are beyond human comparison (some may say ‘godlike’ or talking to god) or ‘healing’. I am an empathic person, this is nothing supernatural or ethereal or silly about empathy, it simply means that I see the discomfort in life; I see the look on someones face when they trip in public and it obviously has embarrassed them, the guy who runs for the bus and misses it, then he feels silly. These may seem like trivial things, and they ARE, people who notice and feel for these people are empathic. I suffer from bi polar and mood and personality disorders, I am not a freak or an idiot or an attention seeker, I see life a little differently. I am not going to give advice because I have none, I sometimes battle, sometimes I cruise and occasionally i quietly enjoy living. There is always a lock for every key and there will always be a treasure behind every locked door. It is important to seek help, remember professionals are called that for a reason and also remember not every professional may be exactly on your wavelength. I hate to quote a silly quote, and at the same time they do say, “life is for the living”, and we’re all living! It’s as much yours as it is anyone else’s, find yourself, find your loved ones and failing all of those above, I’m here for you.

  19. Texas9red says:

    I have bipolar I. I have always thought that this illness (as my doctor calls it) is as unique as each person who has it. Alcohol is very bad for me. I only drink once per year on Dec. 31st and stay the night at my sister’s house. My husband drives me home the next day after we all enjoy a big breakfast. If I drink, I can’t think very well the next day. I also don’t sleep well that night. I have not been much of a drinker in my life even before my diagnosis at 24 years old. I am 38 now. But maybe some are more ok with alcohol than others. I would not know. I am not them. In my opinion, if you have bipolar you should not drink at all if you can resist it. Or drink once a year in a very safe environment with people who know you have bipolar like I do. That way maybe you can feel like you get a treat once a year or something.

  20. i just typed out a very hearfelt comment u did not accept it not impressed and people wonder why i get upset cuz no one listens shame on ur system

    im not repeating all the things i said cuz it was from my heart but after this i really dont give a damn ill live with my illness or die by my illness either way im okay with it

  21. i apolagize for the outburst but i tried to say before on the words i used before that didnt go through to the site and it was very important for me to share that the doctors say im bipolar no meds work and i like my beer which doesnt help i know this but cant stop my family keep trying but i only lash out at them 5 minutes of hurtful words is a lifetime o remembering but i cant stop myself i truly hate myself ive been taken to the er at least 4 times in the last year and a half maybe less im not good with time or days i feel like my life is a rollercoaster cuz im happy then down i feel like im all over the place i hope this message goes through cuz the last one didnt it would be nice to get some input from anyone who understands God Bless

  22. hi again ive read some more comments from other people and and i have have a saying for Strawberry YOU GO GIRL i wish i had ur strength my daughter was home for two weeks and half of that was ruined because of my episodes thats what they call it here in my family episodes the good thing is my daughters fiance is going to univercity in ireland [which is where my daughter is now] they left my house january 17 he is the one that put this site up pretty sneaky but it shows they care and want to help i know what i need to do but i dont feel i can do it i like to just stay alone not be bothered but i wake up my better half all the the time cuz i talk to myself outloud even in bed when my daughter was her she got so mad because of that the problem is i answere myself i thought it was a joke years ago but now its becoming a promblem to tyler im was in the same state ur in i still drink to oblivion which i shouldnt but i did find a mate that has been dealing with my issues i seriously dont know why he stays with me but its been 3 years now maybe u need someone who understands what ur going through its not easy because of my illness bipolar plus he has had to pack his bags more than once but something u have to think about is knowing who u r and being around people who accept u for who u r i actually feel better that i talked or sorry typed i was crying when i started but i feel so much better now and wish the best hope for everyone on this site

  23. i actually was sendind a message to tyler but this site cut me off and its not there anymore guess what BIG BROTHER is watching u thats what it feels like
    when u cut people off in mid sentence take care tyler my message was very hearfelt but obliously the morons who run this site dont give a crap

  24. mary seddon says:

    I have been married to a bi polar for 40 years. I am still confused by his behaviour and lack of empathy. Together we have five children. His input was minimal. When I gave birth it was more about him than me.. Alcohol and him dont mix. Scary, abusive, degrading toward me, but I must say charming to anyone else that is around. I am tired, scared and at my wits end, anybody give me some suggestions. I am exhausted.

  25. Sydeez says:

    I have read all the comments on this site and Strawvery u toughed my heart, I am 29 years old have been in a relationship for 5 years now and it has been up n down but have never been abusive just the usual weirdness sometimes I think she understands me and hopefully she will accept my hand in marriage soon. I stay in Kenya thats Africa by the way and its tough having such a condition here people dont understand it people dont get u, y u dont socialize y sometimes u want b left alone sometimes I feel like am lost.Its grt to hear from people who are going thru the same have struggled with alcohol but since my relationship am starting to find myself.I pray that all will b well and pray for all of you.God bless and thanks for the site you cant imagine how much it has given me hope.God bless

  26. Sorry, I typed every ones names that I read.. but alas it got blanked as obviously not enough room! sorry guys! Your stories are so intune with mine.. I’ve never found this site before, but will come back, defo! thank you Natasha x Well I have bipolar 2 and drink spirits for about 2 or 3 weeks, so have to detox.. I’m sober for about 2 months so meds kick in. Just want to stop.. any suggestions anyone?..I’m not a proper drunk,just trying to cope, love to you all, Lindsay xx

  27. Hi it’s Lindsay again, not sure where you other guys live, but I live on the Isle of Wight in England…
    my meds are quetiapine 200mg Prozac 60mg ( gets alterated when buzzing ) but actually stablizies at times,my actual mood which is weird…lamotarine (which is actually an epiletric drug but usded for mood swings also has always helped as no side affects!!! which is cool. diazapan .. which make me sick so just take at night with zopiclone acationally, No problem with that! just alcohol … the devil juice!! sorry if that sounds really harch, as I am drinking now, hope you don’t think me to be a hypacrit but had bad day!!! sorry my spelling is offal.. he he!.. love you all fellow sufferers always, Lindsay xx

  28. scott says:

    I sit here at 11:30pm at night just cleaning up puke on our coach on the rug and completely covered my wife who could not stand because she was shit faced again. Yes, she is bipolar, yes she has mental illness and other symtoms besides bipolar. Medications 6 of them, combining that with (as of tonight drinking a quarter to half of bottle of rum in coke. As a husband with grown children I am scared, tired and angry. I try to hold this marriage together by being supportive but it weighs heavily and sometimes the burden I carry is to much. In reading all of your comments, those that struggle with bipolar and mental disease along with using alcohol to hide/mask the pain I truly am sorry for you and understand. I see it daily in my wife for the past five years (since her diagnoses). I wish I new of a support group for husbands or a place to reach out to confidentially but I do not. If anyone knows of one in the eastern Nebraska region I would be grateful.

  29. Hi Scott,

    You’re not alone. Have you heard of NAMI? They often offer support groups for family members of people with mental illness.

    You might also want to check out Alanon which offers help for those with a family member who is an addict. (They are specifically anonymous, of course.)

    There are people out there you can talk to. You do not have to handle this all yourself.

    - Natasha Tracy

  30. Katy says:

    I was diagnosed as a manic-depressive as a teenager but I’ve never been medicated I do however use alcohol. This has been very eye-opening. It’s sad to say but I’m glad I’m not alone

  31. Zac says:

    Well, I am Bipolar I, and have been on meds for just over 4 years now. Right now I am on respiridone or respiradal, whichever, which is to keep me from going manic again…which i haven’t since 2010. And i also take some clonopin to alleviate anxiety and to help me sleep. Anyhow, about 3 weeks ago I stopped drinking and well, I should say, I almost made it to 3 weeks…more like 2 1/2…because I fell off the wagon on Thursday for thursday night football watching with my dad, and then another buddy wanted to drink on saturday night, so i had about 5 more on that night, and then yesterday I was depressed and had about 9 beers, and then I was really depressed and crying in my truck listening to music…just by myself. Alcohol just doesn’t work for me anymore. It might be fine with friends to have a few laughs, but definitely not by myself, or when i’m upset. I think i’m just gonna start the clock over and today is day 1 and see how long i can go this time without beer. (I don’t drink hard liquor). I need to lose my beer belly anyway and its just what’s best for me if I want to be a good father and a good (supportive) ex-husband. My wifey had enough of the bipolar in 2010 and we finally divorced last year. But I still love her lots and want to be there when she needs me. Anyhow..lots of words just to say, I’m Bipolar I and alcohol messes up a good thing mentally and physically for me. So i’m doing my best to let it go permanently.

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