It is already a well-known fact that many who suffer from an addiction already are in treatment for a co-existing mental illness. Unfortunately, many of these individuals use alcohol and drugs to help combat their mental illness, while failing to take safe and helpful medications that may actually prevent and resolve the underlying causes of the mental illness itself.
Individuals who suffer from anxiety and depression, for example, are more prone to abuse drugs and alcohol in certain circumstances. Certain addictive medications such as benzodiazepines actually do help anxiety, and so the anxious person may feel as though they have found a cure for their ailment. Depressed and introverted individuals may find themselves being able to open up and socialize after drinking too much, even though the alcohol contributes to their depression in an unfortunate, vicious cycle.
Many disorders such as anxiety and depression can be treated with non-addictive medications like buspar (for anxiety) and SSRI’s (for anxiety and depression). There are natural ways to overcome these ailments if individuals in recovery from addiction choose to avoid medication altogether. However, there are certain mental illnesses that require one to take medications in order to function. Some of these ailments include bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Bipolar disorder causes “mood swings between intense emotional highs and lows.” A startling study concluded, “In people with bipolar disorder, approximately 60% had some history of substance abuse.” Though there is no concrete explanation to correlate substance abuse and bipolar disorder, several theories exist which make sense. Bipolar disorder cause mood swings to fluctuate between extreme highs and lows. During manic episodes, impulsive behavior is prone to occur. This involves compulsive shopping, taking drugs, staying up for days, obsessive cleaning, and other high-energy activities. The “stop” signal in the brain that tells the mind to slow down ceases to exist during these times. It is no wonder that individuals abuse drugs and alcohol during the manic phase.
During the depressed phase in bipolar disorder, individuals who are afflicted are so unhappy and low in their state of being that they are unable to often leave the bed. Any sort of model elevator can be abused during this time period just to help the person function. For example, some who suffer from bipolar disorders may take uppers or alcohol during their bouts of severe depression. Others find opiates or other euphoria-producing type drugs more helpful in easing depressive symptoms.
Of course, none of these methods work in the long term, either in the manic phase or in the depressed phase. Those who abuse drugs and alcohol and suffer from bipolar disorder are putting themselves in a very dangerous position. Bipolar disorder can be treated effectively with non-addictive mood stabilizers, but bipolar individuals must be cautious to avoid alcohol or drugs of any kind while on them.
There is also a theory that exists which states that consistent drug abuse and use can actually cause bipolar disorder. According to the Addiction Center, “frequent drug use and abuse causes physical changes in the brain. The most obvious change to the brain is the reward system, which makes drugs feel pleasurable. However, “changes in the brain lead to compulsive, drug seeking behavior.” Most importantly, “drugs can also rewire other parts of the brain that affect mood and behavior. Drug abuse and addiction can cause changes in the brain that lead to bipolar disorder.”
We all know that certain drugs can induce manic like conditions. Look no further than Charlie’ Sheen’s well publicized melt down a few years ago and his incoherent screeds on YouTube. Compare his rambling speech and expressions of grandiosity to moments when we know he is sober and clean, where he speaks in a clear and linear fashion. Does this mean that cocaine or stimulant abuse has made Charlie Sheen bipolar? Probably not. It does mean however, that consistent abuse of certain drugs can exacerbate or even cause individuals who are predisposed to mental illness to suffer from one more intensely. The jury is still out on whether or not drugs can cause a mental illness entirely, or whether drugs just make a dormant mental illness active.
Regardless, it is important for all individuals who suffer from severe mental health issues to refrain from drugs and alcohol. Even if a bipolar individual does not have a problem with an addiction, he or she must do their best to avoid heavy drinking or even caffeine use. Those who have addictive tendencies must be even more cautious. There are plenty of successful, proven solutions to treating both addiction and mental health problems, including bipolar disorder. These involve safe medications, the support of a physician, 12-step meetings, rehab programs such as those at Footprints Behavioral Health, and a consistent effort on the part of the addict to incorporate balance in their everyday lives.