A recent article in Psychology Today written by Russ Federman shows that when individuals with bipolar disorder drink large amounts of alcohol or abuse drugs, the results are most often negative. The explanation of why alcohol and drugs don’t mix well with bipolar disorder isn’t simple.
To begin with, individuals with bipolar disorder struggle with mental stability. Obviously, alcohol does not enable stability, so problems arise when the two are mixed. Following the experience that alcohol provides, individuals who have bipolar may experience increased mood swings or instability. Also, people with bipolar disorder often struggle with long bouts of depression following alcohol abuse. These “low” mood cycles can be hard for them to recover from. Generally, people with the addictive behaviors, which bipolar individuals commonly struggle with, tend to over indulge when drinking alcohol because the anticipation of feeling low is not apparent for the individual at the time that he or she desires the high. However, the feelings of being hung over and depressed are magnified with bipolar disorder.
But, when individuals are pleasure seeking or perhaps just trying to get rid of uncomfortable feelings, the thought processes leading to their 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.
When the seductive and dangerous element of disinhibition is taken into account, particularly in relation to alcohol and bipolar, the effects can be dangerous. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and that is partly why it feels so good. Individuals who may be insecure or shy get to be more outgoing and confident. Individuals who generally are uptight get to let loose and be stupid. People who are chronically anxious and fearful get to relax. The problem with this is that individuals with bipolar disorder intermittently become hypomanic or manic: it’s what defines the diagnosis. Russ Federman (2010) states that, “in these elevated mood states, bipolar individuals almost always experience some degree of impaired impulse control. During the elevated mood phase they’re usually feeling up, energized, gregarious and cognitively accelerated. The problem is that once their mood extends above the mildly elevated range, they often lose the capacity to modulate or turn down their mood-related intensity. It’s like the wheels of hypomania become lubricated and they keep picking up speed.”
So, in sum, red flags are flying when alcohol-related disinhibition and individuals with bipolar are mixed. Because of the increase in feelings and emotions, bipolar individuals have to master control over their desire for more– which is difficult in most cases. Most bipolar individuals struggle with even having just a single glass of alcohol because it usually leads to more – and that’s what gets them in trouble. Again, to quote Federman (2010), “If you want to live well with bipolar disorder, then drugs and alcohol don’t factor into the equation.”