Alcohol and Bipolar Meds


One of my biggest temptations that can trigger an episode or interfere with the way my medications work is alcohol. Having a drink. It just seems like a nice way to relax at the end of a long day or when I just want to mellow out a little bit more.

While I’m not in the mood for a drink I’m going to think about it. Most if not all of my psychiatric medications warn me not to drink alcohol or use other drugs while taking my prescribed medication. Okay. I’ve been warned. I ignore warnings sometimes. Should I ignore this particular warning?

We desire to have a drink at the end of a stressful day because alcohol is a depressant and we want to chill out.

Fun Fact: People with bipolar disorder are five times more likely to develop alcohol misuse and dependence than the rest of the people around us (the National Institute of Mental Health).

What does that mean, really? It means that alcohol is a leading TRIGGER of depressive episodes if you have bipolar disorder. According to WebMD “The link between bipolar disorder and substance abuse is explosive.”

In my mind, if I’m drinking alcohol and am taking medications that indicate I am NOT to take alcohol while I’m taking them, I’m engaging in substance abuse. Can you see why I look at it that way? Drinking can endanger my life while I’m taking these other medications and disrupt all my efforts to treat my disorder. I’ve worked too hard to reach a place where I mostly feel stable to jeopardize it by drinking a 4-pack of coolers that might easily become another 4-pack.

I realize a 4-pack of coolers isn’t likely to kill me but consider that if I’m depressed and drinking a depressant am I helping myself relax, in my depressed state, or making myself more likely to abuse alcohol while I feel like it’s deadening the stress of my day? When I’m depressed I don’t tend to make good choices. My inhibitions are lowered. I might do things I would otherwise not do. It’s the same for a non-bipolar person, but I’m special. I have all this other stuff going on too. While a person without bipolar disorder may return to normal the day after drinking we have to figure out how to slow down the wheels of our possibly artificially elevated mood phase we’re in and slow back down to a healthy place.

Is it okay to stop taking my meds for a few days and then go drinking and start back on my meds after that? Um, no. Many of the drugs used for bipolar disorder must be ramped up slowly to get to the dosage that is effective for us. It can be dangerous to just stop taking a drug cold turkey and then start back at the high level again. I’m currently taking a medication that I need to be careful not to miss a single dosage.

When I’m struggling with mood instability (which is what it’s all about after all) I’ve found that it’s a pretty simple thing… bipolar disorder and alcohol don’t belong in the same body.

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