People with bipolar disorder rarely talk about alcohol abuse. The last thing we want to be told is that we have a drinking problem.
Anxiety is usually a big part of bipolar disorder and my meds only help so much. My anxiety would grow throughout the day. I would live with it. I would meditate. I would read and I would watch the cooking channel to relax. But the anxiety always came back. It was ever present.
At the end of each day I would drink. Mostly wine. I didn’t know it at the time but I was drinking to be rid of the anxiety. I would drink until the anxiety was under control and then I would sip to maintain that feeling. I did this all subconsciously.
I would drink alone. It seemed I drank a lot. But instead of a lot, I drank over a several hour period of time, from five till ten p.m. I drank to make my anxiety go away.
This is called self-medicating. I was concerned about being an alcoholic. I had a lot of the signs but I was not addicted. I used alcohol to quiet my anxiety. In that sense I abused it. Not to get drunk, not to forget my troubles, simply to be calm and silence that overwhelming sense of dread in the pit of my stomach.
I say abuse because I was not just a social drinking. I didn’t drink just occasionally. I drank alone and every night. This went on for years and years.
And then one day I stopped. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Just one day my overwhelming anxiety was gone. And with it went my desire to drink.
I had seen my doctor and she changed my medicine. The new meds reduced the anxiety by 80%. I no longer needed the alcohol to reduce it. I think about that. I think about folks with a mental illness who drink a lot. They too are self-medicating.
People, family and friends mostly, worried about my drinking. My wife gave me a hard time about it. I couldn’t describe why I drank at the time. I just drank. I see now where it looked like I may have been an alcoholic, but inside I knew I wasn’t.
My meds all warned against alcohol use. According to warnings I wasn’t supposed to drink at all. I understand why. Getting drunk makes depression worse. Drinking too much makes sleep more difficult and good sleep is maybe the most important thing we can do for ourselves to help manage our symptoms. Drinking interferes with our meds. Our meds can increase the impact of alcohol on our systems and vice versa.
It would have been helpful for me to have known why I was drinking every day. Knowing that I was drinking to relieve the anxiety could have spurred me to tell the doctor and get on a better med sooner. But I never talked to my doctor about my drinking. When I filled out questionnaires that asked about it, I always said I was drinking less than I was. It was another stigma I did not need. And I knew that I felt better when I drank. I just didn’t know why.
Many of us self-medicate. Most of us don’t want to talk about it. We don’t get drunk so most of us don’t see it as a serious problem. We just know that if we talk about it, we are going to be told to stop. And stopping drinking by itself is not a solution.
I am not here to advocate for drinking. And I am not here to preach and tell you that you have to stop. I am here to say that I drank every night for twenty five years. And one day I was prescribed the right medicine and I stopped. It wasn’t the alcohol I desired. It was the relief from the anxiety. Once I got that relief through medication, I no longer needed to drink.
It turns out I didn’t have a drinking problem. I had an anxiety problem.
via bpHope – bp Magazine Community