Self-Medication is a term that anyone with bipolar disorder has probably heard. Self-Medication is simply abusing substances to relieve other problems. Substances generally refers to non-prescribed drugs and alcohol. reports that approximately 56% of people suffering from bipolar disorder have a substance abuse problem. I would be willing to bet that in addition to that figure, a number of people use alcohol or drugs but are not labelled as having a substance abuse problem, either because they use infrequently or because they don’t disclose.

People self-medicate to deal with bipolar symptoms such as anxiety, depression and insomnia. As well, when someone is in a manic episode, they could self-medicate because of the mania symptoms including risk-taking, poor judgement and euphoria. Though people turn to drugs or alcohol to make symptoms better and to control the moods, they often have the reverse effect. Their “drug of choice” has the potential to interfere with their prescribed medications, their brain chemistry, and how the two interact. Self-medicating also effects the rate of medication compliance – not following your treatment plan as set out by your doctor. Relief from substance use or abuse is short and does not address the main illness.

Dr. Bryan Tolliver reports that patients with bipolar disorder who self-medicate have more mood swings, more and lasting hospitalizations, higher rates of suicide attempts, and more mixed episodes. Alcohol and drugs can trigger depressive and manic episodes in some people with bipolar. And those with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop an addiction.

I don’t mean to imply that people with bipolar disorder are all drug addicts or alcoholics. But rather that those who have bipolar are simply more likely to seek relief. When you’re suffering the way you do with bipolar disorder, any relief is welcomed. I used to self-medicate. I am now of the mind that it works against my prescribed treatment plan by my doctors and I no longer try to control my illness that way. But it’s a constant battle.

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