The Relationship Between Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol

Bipolar disorder is one of the most commonly known mental illnesses, but also one of the most misunderstood. Those who have bipolar disorder find themselves experiencing extended periods of euphoria (known as being “manic”) and depression. However, it’s far more complex than just switching between being happy and being sad. The problems aren’t just limited to how much their mood can fluctuate. The unpleasantness of dealing with bipolar disorder symptoms can cause people to try to find ways to make themselves feel good in the short-term. Therefore, the potential for alcohol abuse amongst bipolar individuals is quite high.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

When you imagine someone with bipolar disorder, you might think of someone who is laughing uproariously one minute and weeping uncontrollably the next. While this may speak to how those with bipolar disorder deal with the extremes of both ends of the emotional spectrum, simplifying it in those ways can make it far more misunderstood. What occurs more often for people with bipolar disorder is that they go through periods of extended glee or despondency. A person might feel like they’re unstoppable for days on end. Then, that feeling can crash and they may feel like there is no hope for them. This is an exhausting thing to experience, especially if one doesn’t have medication to help them control their symptoms.

Signs of Depression

Depression is not to be confused with feeling sad. While sadness is certainly a part of the experience of many people who are depressed, one can feel depressed without any particular reason. Those with bipolar disorder can have trouble feeling any sort of motivation to even do basic things, like getting out of bed, when they’re going through depressive episodes. Other signs of depression include lack of appetite, irritability, and being very low energy.

Signs of Mania

Some might think of mania as just being excessive happiness. However, like with depression, it’s far more complicated than that. Someone experiencing mania can tend to feel euphoria to the point that they have trouble keeping their composure. They can be so energized that they throw caution to the wind, leading to them making dangerous decisions. The amount of energy they expend can cause them to neglect things like sleep, furthering the mental unease they’re feeling. A manic episode can conclude with a mental crash that results in a depressive state.

Bipolar and Alcoholism

Having bipolar disorder is incredibly difficult. It can be helped through medication and therapy, but those who lack access to medical treatment can end up turning to substance abuse as a means of coping. Alcohol abuse is common among those with bipolar disorder, due to its ease of access and how it provides feelings of relief and escape.

Drinking With Bipolar Disorder

When someone with bipolar disorder drinks, they may feel their negative feelings lessen. If they’re feeling particularly depressed, they can cover it up by drinking until they’ve numbed the pain enough to the point of feeling better or not noticing their negative emotions any longer. Someone with bipolar disorder may also use alcohol during a manic episode. This typically is done not to distance from their manic state but to heighten the feelings of mania.

Effects of Alcohol on Those With Bipolar Disorder

The consequences of drinking when one has bipolar disorder can be felt in the days after. If someone drinks when depressed, they might feel better at the moment but have the feelings of depression compounded when they wake up the next day. The alcohol could also cause them to do or say things they regret, particularly if they’re drinking while in a manic state. If they’ve been taking prescription medication to treat their condition, it could interact negatively with alcohol.

How Bipolar Disorder and Alcoholism Relate

Bipolar disorder doesn’t directly cause alcoholism, but it can lead to someone feeling a stronger urge to drink. The soothing effects of alcohol as well as its addictive properties can mean that someone with bipolar disorder turns to a bottle instead of finding a healthy means of handling their condition. When one becomes dependent on alcohol, they can have trouble with maintaining relationships, keeping their finances in order, and holding down steady employment. This can create a vicious cycle in which they deal with the fallout of these problems, caused by alcohol, by drinking more, likely leading to more problems.

Treatment of Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol

In order for alcoholism caused by bipolar disorder to be treated, both conditions need to be addressed. Just quitting drinking isn’t enough if there hasn’t been a proper glimpse into what factors lead to the client starting to drink in the first place. This is called a dual diagnosis treatment. It involves looking at two related conditions in tandem with each other. Bipolar disorder cannot be eliminated outright, but it can be controlled through proper treatment. Similarly, alcoholism is a disease that can always exist in someone’s life. However, it can be treated by finding means to avoid alcohol and developing coping strategies to avoid letting temptations grow.

Wanting to Drink When You Have Bipolar Disorder

If you have bipolar disorder, you’ve likely found yourself in situations where you’ve wanted to use a quick-fix solution, like alcohol, to get yourself out of your negative headspace. This is totally understandable, but you also need to understand how alcohol can offer far more problems than solutions. Drinking as a means of dealing with bipolar disorder can be like trying to put out a fire with a liquid, except its a liquid one that’s highly flammable.

How to Cope

The best means of coping with bipolar disorder is self-care. This could happen in the form of talking to a friend when you’re going through a period of depression. It could also involve going to regular therapy sessions and developing a stronger sense of awareness that lets you distance yourself from feelings of depression or mania. This can also help you to stay away from alcohol because you’ll understand how drinking could just make you slip further into a state of unhappiness or unwellness. You will find it’s far more beneficial to work through your emotions instead of trying to cover them up with alcohol.

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