Alcoholism and Bipolar Disorder

Can you please let me know how to help reduce alcohol consumption in people with bipolar disorder.

Helping my husband stumble to bed, cover him up and go clean up the mess of beer cans that strung all over our back yard.  I went through four different rehabs with him, each time thinking that this will be the time that he’ll walk away from it forever.  Unfortunately, he never did.  That’s my story.

First, I want to tell you there is nothing you can do to reduce the alcohol consumption of someone with bipolar.  Sorry but it’s the truth.  People with bipolar tend to self medicate when they feel their meds aren’t working right.  Instead of reaching out to their doctor, they reach for a bottle.  The coexistence of alcoholism or abuse of drugs is very high in people with bipolar; according to the Mayo clinic about half of people with bipolar struggle with alcoholism.

First you must understand they are two separate disorders although one greatly affects the other.  Often times, people who struggle with substance abuse of any kind and have bipolar, are said to have a dual diagnosis.  When someone uses alcohol they tend to exacerbate their bipolar as alcohol is a depressant.  When my husband would drink I would see him sinking further into depression and no matter what I said to him his response would be “I have it under control leave me alone.”  Yet he would miss work and ultimately go out on stress leave for a period of time.

One thing I did was not to have alcohol in the house.  That meant he had to go purchase his beer himself and HE had to make the conscious decision to purchase it.  I also would place around the house rehab brochures suggesting that he get help.  I would also ask if he had talked to his doctor lately, or ask when his next appointment was.  I also had information about his medication he was taking available so he could see the warnings about not mixing with alcohol.  Ultimately it has to be the decision of the person abusing alcohol to make the decision to get help.

What you can do for yourself is attend Al-anon meetings freeing yourself from the guilt that comes along with having a person in your life that is an alcoholic.  What you don’t want to do is make the relationship a codependent one risking your health, whether you have a mental illness or not.  If the person you are with likes to drink around you, remove yourself from the situation when the drinking begins.  Take steps to remove the reason for them to drink.  Easy? No, but a necessary evil so to speak.

When they are ready to tackle both disorders, then you can be their number one supporter.  One thing that helped me through it was the Serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the WISDOM to know the difference.

I had to learn I cannot change people, places or things.

The other saying that I have tucked in my wallet reads:  Serenity isn’t freedom from the storm…It’s the peace within the storm.

Remember that ultimately this is not something you can control and sometimes it takes tough love to bring about change.  Best Wishes!

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