Can Illegal Drugs Make Bipolar Symptoms Worse?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

After years of extremely abusing prescription pills and experimenting pretty much everything, my sister, age 27, has been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. Until the past year, she was 100% functional, she went to school, work, and could have relationships with family and friends.

Within the past year and a half, she has quit school, moved home (in with me (age 21) with my husband and infant child), and became incredibly consumed in her drug life and the people whom that brings. This has caused many marital problems and we have asked her many times to move out. She straightens up long enough for us to say she can stay, and she goes right back to her old ways.

She blames ALL of her failures and problems on her Bipolar disorder, and cannot take responsibility for anything. She has been off work for a month, frankly because she talks her doctor (who is a Nurse Practitioner) into letting her been off work for weeks at a time. And when she is scheduled to go back, calls her doctor over and “emergency” and gets another week off.

She is EXTREMELY dramatic, and will do practically anything for attention. She says that no one in the family loves her and only her druggie friends are there for her.

Well, this week we have all cracked. We gave her the ultimatum to come home (she was incredibly wasted and couldn’t drive, so i offered to pick her up) or pack her bags, and she didn’t come home till the next day, so i called her and told her that she had to go. The next day she checked into a psych-ward in a neighboring town. You might see this as her trying to help herself, but i don’t. She knew that I have told the family that i am fed up. Fed up with her drama, her keeping drugs in my house, her causing problems, and her bringing questionable people around my child. My husband and I have never been into drugs, and felt sorry for her. She has used this against us.

My question in the end, even if the Bipolar disorder is “not her fault”. Could the Extreme pill addiction (that she still has) be affecting her Chemical imbalance??

A. You’ve done a lot for your sister. You gave her shelter when she needed it. You’ve taken care of her for longer than you probably should have given the fact that she was using drugs around your child and bringing shady people into your home. She might have bipolar disorder and that is unfortunate but she also is an adult who is irresponsibly engaging in drug use around your child. That type of activity endangers not only your child but also you and your husband. Given these circumstances, giving her an ultimatum was the correct choice. I know it was difficult because you’d hate to see your sister suffer but you have a family that you need to care for and protect. She was endangering your family and so she had to go.

I am not sure I understand your question regarding extreme pill addiction and how that might affect her chemical imbalance. If you are asking whether drug use worsens bipolar disorder the answer is yes, usually it does. It’s not clear whether the drug use led to the bipolar disorder or vice versa but undoubtedly drug use negatively impacts bipolar disorder symptoms.

It was very thoughtful of you to take in your sister when she needed help but it was the correct choice to make to ask her to leave when she began using illegal drugs in your home, around your child. Hopefully in the future she can get the help she needs and then it may be appropriate to allow her back into your home. You can and should support her in her attempts to get help even if they seem half-hearted. Addiction is a very difficult problem to overcome and it usually takes addicts many attempts to finally quit. With your love and support she might someday be able to beat her addiction. Thanks for writing.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Apr 2009

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2009). Can Illegal Drugs Make Bipolar Symptoms Worse?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/04/20/can-illegal-drugs-make-bipolar-symptoms-worse/

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