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Bipolar Disorder and Drug Abuse

It’s very common to find people with bipolar using drugs of one kind or another. If you were to experience the constant interference, disruption and pain that bipolar brings about, you would understand why one would resort to using drugs. Bipolar disorder makes it hard to get up in the morning, hard to hold a conversation and almost impossible for many to hold down a job. With problems like these it’s no wonder that medication is abandoned in favor of street drugs.

You see, medication doesn’t always quite hit the spot. Medical teams and patients spend years trying to find the right balance of medication. In the meantime, the patient suffers emotionally and psychologically. Often there is little support during this period as the patient is half better and looks okay — so they must be okay, right? Wrong. That’s not the case at all. We can look fine and feel horrendous.

Many of us start using marijuana before we are ever diagnosed. We need that balance but we are not quite sure why. This was the case in my experience. I needed weed, it wasn’t just something I did for fun. It was medicine, but I didn’t know it at the time.

It started with a few joints at night a couple of times a week. Soon I was hooked and needed it much more often. It chilled me out when I was in a high mood, made me laugh when I was depressed and smoothed out the agitation of the mixed episode.

Within a year my buddies and I had all moved on to using ecstasy pills and cocaine. They were exciting times for us. It was all utterly irresponsible but it was so much fun. I think it’s fair to say that I was particularly fond of the white stuff as it helped with my already damaged self-esteem.

There were some differences between my experiences with these substances and those of my friends. First up, I never had the dreaded comedown that everyone else had to go through. After a night out on class A drugs I was chirpy and bright. I never felt like calling it a day.

I could go to work the next day. I never needed to sleep it off like my friends. We all thought it strange at the time, but it was years later before it made any sense.

I also experienced hallucinations while using ecstasy. No one else in the group really found this to be part of their experience.

Of course, this was all very dangerous for us all, but especially for me. My mood episodes started when I was about 16 and now, 10 years later I was saturating myself with chemicals that were bound to make those episodes worse. If only I knew, maybe my condition might not have become so advanced.

I became pregnant and left my habit behind me. It was easy, if memory serves. I didn’t need any help or support with it, nor was there any withdrawal period. I suppose I was only using socially and not on a daily basis. so things worked out fine in the end. I was lucky I was never exposed to heroin or meth or anything like that. To be honest, I don’t think I would have tried it. There has always been a part of me that valued my life no matter how low I felt. That’s not a road I would have chosen to go down.

I had four babies and never took another pill. I did, however, continue to smoke weed. I just couldn’t handle the episodes without the help of some “smoke.” I could have chosen alcohol instead, but the weed appealed to my creative nature and I had grown tired of alcohol many years before.

I know it was wrong of me to smoke when there were children in the house, but I wouldn’t have been able to function without that time to relax at night, just me and my spliff. I never did any harm to anyone but myself — and that brings me to where it all went belly-up.

A few years after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I slowly began to develop psychosis. It started very gradually and built up over time. In the beginning I was seeing lights, shadows and things in my peripheral vision. But by the end I was hearing voices and seeing people, angels and spirits. It became frightening. I was completely delusional and eventually ran away as I trusted the voices more than I did the real people in my life.

I was hospitalized for a month and put on olanzapine (antipsychotic). By my third day in the hospital I realized that the weed had made the episode worse. I took my box of weed out of my bag and threw it out the window into the hospital grounds. Someone else would pick it up sometime and put it in the bin and that would be the end of it. No more smoking for me.

That was almost five years ago now. I never once looked back. I spent the following four years trying to get better and I have arrived at a good place now at last.

Not everyone is affected by drugs in the same way. Some of us are more sensitive than others and will experience long-term effects. My advice to anyone with a mental health problem who is using substances would be to get help. Reality is a wonderful thing. Living in the real world is something to be embraced. When you use drugs every day you become detached from your own reality. Instead you live in an internal world that you manufacture and forget again with each minute that passes. Nothing about it is real or will enhance your life in any way.

I don’t judge people who want to use drugs socially. If they can handle them, that is their business. There are some of us, however, who should be more careful.

Marijuana photo available from Shutterstock

Bipolar Disorder and Drug Abuse


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APA Reference
Richardson, B. (2018). Bipolar Disorder and Drug Abuse. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 17, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/bipolar-disorder-and-drug-abuse/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.