‘Instructions for most psychiatric medications warn users not to drink alcohol, but people with bipolar disorder frequently abuse alcohol and other drugs. While some patients stop drinking when they are depressed, it is more common that someone with bipolar disorder drinks during low moods.’ [Source: WEBMD.]
Bipolar disorder is marked by extreme mood swings. Drinking alcohol, or abusing recreational drugs, can often amplify your mood swings. People with bipolar disorder often turn to alcohol and/or drugs in an attempt to quiet their symptoms, especially the manic symptoms.
The abuse is an attempt to self-medicate in the hope to ‘feel’ better. But such a person will only temporarily feel better. Once the effects of the alcohol or drugs have warned off, a bipolar person will once again have to face the stark reality of their mood swings and everything that is associated with that.
I found a good article on the website of Psychology Today: ‘Alcohol, Drugs and Bipolar Disorder: A Bad Combination.’ It reads as follows:
‘The explanation of why alcohol and drugs don’t mix well with bipolar disorder isn’t simple. It really needs to be considered from multiple perspectives.
First, it is fairly obvious that the introduction of mind-altering chemicals into the brain doesn’t help to sustain mental stability. With almost all recreational drugs there is some kind of “high” associated with the experience. That’s why people do it. But following any substance-induced high, there’s almost always the experience of coming down. And usually, that translates into a “low” mood feeling.
Thinks of how you feel the morning after being intoxicated, or four to five hours after smoking pot or snorting cocaine. It’s usually not a pleasurable experience. The problem is that the anticipation of feeling low is not apparent for the individual at the time that he or she desires the high. Whoever thinks … “I want to feel hung over and depressed so I’m going to drink some alcohol.” Obviously, if most individuals applied an objective analysis of the outcomes of substance use, them most wouldn’t drink or get high.
But when we’re pleasure-seeking or perhaps just trying to get rid of uncomfortable feelings, the thought processes leading to our choices aren’t necessarily rational or balanced. In fact, for those with bipolar disorder who struggle with mood instability, the use of drugs and alcohol only adds to the ups and downs. It absolutely doesn’t smooth them out.
And then there’s the seductive and dangerous element of disinhibition, particularly in relation to alcohol. Alcohol lowers inhibitions. That’s partly why it feels so good. The shy or insecure person gets to be more outgoing and confident. The person who’s too tightly wrapped gets to let loose and be stupid. And the person who’s chronically anxious and fearful gets to relax.
What to do if you are bipolar and abusing alcohol or any recreational drugs?
It simply isn’t enough to treat bipolar disorder without treating the problems of substance abuse, and vice versa. You need comprehensive care for both conditions. Therapeutic approaches like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) have proven useful as a treatment option.
It is recommended that a bipolar person seeks the help of his/her psychiatrist and psychologist to find the correct treatment options for their specific substance abuse problems. Don’t have a psychiatrist or psychologist? Get help from SADAG.