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Bipolar Disorder and Drinking

People with bipolar disorder should avoid drinking. Alcohol is both destabilizing and can increase risky behaviors. More at Breaking Bipolar blog.

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.

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.

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.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

93 thoughts on “Bipolar Disorder and Drinking”

  1. Interesting stuff! It seems to do that to me also. My career is helping others as a Coach and i am passionate about mindset stuff and progression and have been for over 10 years. BUT i went to a wedding recently, got a little tipsy and ended up getting annoyed about a tiny thing which rendered me out of control and different. I have always been colourful in life one could say – in that i am full of life and of expression but this turned me into the darker more unpredicatble version. It scared me! So, after yearsof drinking now and then its just ‘then’ now. So less often. I am happier knowing myself when i am in control. Anyways – great article and hope it helps others! Cheers Greg )

  2. I’ve gotten thru some of the worst of disorder? However, my physical disability keeps me limited to focus on possibilities? I wish “normal” people could feel what we do? Not abusive to anyone. Just getting so tired at 55 years old.

  3. Hi! I have got all the signs and am medicated with carbamazepine for three years now and the doctor stopped me from alcohol without telling me the reason. sometimes I feel like killing myself. what do you advice.

  4. I’m writing this after a night of heavy drinking and I feel so ashamed and I’m crying because I just undid all the hard work I’ve been putting in these past few months. I hate my bipolar. I hate it. I hate it. I just wish it would go away because it makes me feel like this. I just want to be normal and I don’t know how. I’m so scared because this is slowly alienating all the people around me. I can’t talk to anyone I love anymore because they don’t understand and I can see it’s hurting them but I DONT KNOW WHAT TO DO. I know too that once I’ve slept for a couple days I’ll be okay and all these feelings of shame will subside until I drink again. Drinking makes me a worse person. Drinking also makes me a better person because of that wonderful period in between when I’m charming and funny and can openly have a conversation with people without sweating because I’m thinking about the way they’ll react when they realize how messed up I am inside. I don’t know what to do. It’s taking over my life.

    1. So relieving reading something like this, exact same thoughts and feelings. I do exactly the same, its a vicious cycle…. just doesn’t stop

      1. Hey, I know exactly how you feel too. I found it hardest when having to recognize that ultimately, everyone is kind of alone in this world. When I accepted that and I was feeling terrible I realized that I had enough strength to say I love myself, so I have enough strength to keep going on. All I do when I feel terrible is pay attention to everything negative I think or say (that i can without adding stress) and counter with positive talk. It never stops my emotions, but it guides me in the right direction. I’m also an artist, and I find that having a way to express myself after I got through something is beautifully rewarding and I always hope that it can help others understand this type of pain without having to experience the depths we have.

  5. I dont understand why they cant put the puzzle together. I know we all want to have fun and keep that pleasure center going nice and strong. but by doing this 100% of the time your going to have a crash.., and when alcohol or non prescribed drugs are used your asking for trouble. I just wish Mr nice guy would stay out a little longer before The @sshole decides to play. Absolutely no logic or reasoning, they have to be right on every angle and if you point that out your the jerk. Getting real tired of dealing with this stuff… Perhaps its getting close for another visit to rehab. Its a damn shame to just before the working season. Wake the Hell UP and DO IT!!! Ok maybe I can sleep soon getting this off my chest. Its tough being the bigger man and not kicking there ass. Im just going to have to stop allowing this behavior.

  6. My girlfriend, i think she is bipolar even though she has not gone to a doctor i see that alot of behavior indicates bipolar red flags to me. She is sometimes ok then suddenly she is angry and upset because of little things. Things that can be solved she makes a huge deal. She also drinks every day. She says is just to relax her after a long day of work but honestly this has torn our relationship and i have a daughter who has dealt with alot of the situation including going missing for three days and doing other things that have me stressing out as well. My home is falling apart because of my girlfriends bipolar issues and her drinking habits. I dont know what to do or say. And at this point we are living under the same roof but we are not together although I do love her and i want to help her but she refuses to help her self so I stay to myself.

  7. My boyfriend and love of my life has been diagnosed with severe depression but the more I read about Bipolar disorder the more I think he had been misdiagnosed. Like the woman who posted above who lost her love to an alcohol fueled suicide…I could have written that same article. Except my man is still here. Things are good when he doesn’t drink. His moods are more stable. He still suffers from headache and insomnia but he doesn’t turn into an angry, paranoid person like he does when he drinks. He has had two run ins with the law for drinking and driving. After the first one he didn’t drink for 5 months and they were some of the best months of our relationship ship. He ended up getting off without charges and went back to drinking. Two months ago he got busted again and this time I don’t think he will get off. I have tried to emphasize that drinking makes his depression worse and that the medications he is on interfere with his tolerance. When sober he agrees and he knows. But when he’s drunk he says hurtful things and gets really paranoid. When I ask him about things he said while drinking he doesn’t remember. When he’s sober he is my lover, best friend and I love being around him. But I’m not sure I can trust him and i have two children. We have been making plans to live together but I’m not sure I should bring my children into this complicated cycle of his deprrsssion. I love him so much and have supported him through various suicide attempts, a partial hospitalization, three different therapists and I’ve swallowed my own feelings and problems in an effort to make his life easier. I am not sure what to do. I need to know that there is hope or light at the end of the tunnel.

  8. Hi its Susan again, I typed a message way back in November. My son who left home 15 months ago and went to go and live with his brother. My son’s girlfriend text me the other day, saying she wanted to have a chat about my two sons and my grandson, who I have never had any dealings with. I believe they are having trouble with my younger son, drinking and probably becoming quite violent. Can someone tell me what I should do. I want to help, but I cannot go through what I went through before. I feel they just want to dump him back. These two took him, convincing him that he did not have B1 and told him to stop taking his meds. I know these are bad, can anyone give some advice please.

  9. Hi audience,

    I am a 27 yrs of age and have been diagnosed with BiPolar Disorder 1 since early teens. Upon moving away to college, I had drug-induced psychosis requiring hospitalization 3 times (Marijuana and Alcohol) that left me with many damaged relationships and credit card debt, endless thoughts of self-doubt, depression, etc. After almost 2 years of healing from the trauma I feel I can finally make progress in my life.

    I was the first person in my my family to attend college. I graduated with my AA, and am very close to receiving my BA. Very recently I was working at 3 jobs just to afford bills, and then I stopped getting hours and took myself out of a toxic environment where I felt I could no longer develop professionally. Thankfully, I have another job that supports people with Disabilities. Its not a lot of money, its barely enough to get by, but I am thankful that I have water, shelter and food.
    I am a gifted Artist/Designer and have great rapport with people, but can find it challenging to control my moods when I need to. While on medication, I feel like I have no soul, I don’t care about anything besides smoking cigarettes and eating junk food. Aside from that all of my inspired thoughts and creativity is dulled down to the point where it doesn’t even surface in my mind.

    I decided to get off meds, due to numerous postings I’ve read where people get severely addicted to them, psychiatrists raising doses every so often and causing organ damage in the long run. I keep meds for preventative maintenance, which doctors WOULD NOT recommend. Zypreza is what I was prescribed to last, and It started to make me delusional in terms of hearing people talk when they weren’t and just random things would appear to be happening when they actually aren’t. I am a good actress most of the time and people wouldn’t realize the things I’m actually experiencing on a day to day basis just to run errands or perform at my job. It really helps to be busy and have a sense of center of yourself when people upset you or you lose your cool.

    My coping mechanisms have been writing a lot, listening to music, preparing very healthy foods and snacks, avoiding sugar, staying AWAY from alcohol, marijuana is also mind numbing to me. I find cigarettes to be enjoyable along with Kombucha. Not everyday, but sometimes.

    Meditation is very underrated in terms of anxiety control and relaxation for BP1 and BP2.

    I could seriously write a story about the challenges I’ve encountered and the strength I’ve gotten from pushing through believing in myself and keeping my dreams alive. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the positive support a special friend and my family has tried to have. They don’t understand me or suffer with their own mental and physical disabilities.
    I often feel alone, but when reading the experiences on this site its frightening how much I can relate.

    Best of love and life this new year!

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