Alcohol and Bipolar Disorder: What Are They Thinking?

Bipolar disorder affect the entire family, not just the afflicted person. Psychology Today magazine has estimates that the divorce rate among couples where at least one partner is bipolar is more than 90%.

Self-medication is a worrying aspects of bipolar disorder, and many diagnosed with bipolar disorder turn to alcohol. Both men and women with bipolar disorder are more likely to become alcoholics as compared to those without this condition.

Bipolar alcohol abuse often occurs because it can be one way to eliminate the symptoms of bipolar disorder, such as anxiety, depression and fear. However, this often backfires because as dependency on alcohol increases, the patient ends up with a dual diagnosis with debilitating symptoms.

Furthermore, alcoholism worsens bipolar symptoms, and it becomes more difficult to treat this condition because not only does alcohol complicate the symptoms, but it also makes it difficult to use certain medications that cannot be used with liquor.

According to a study by Oxford University and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and mentioned in, “21% of patients with bipolar disorder and a diagnosis of severe substance abuse (alcohol or illegal drugs) were convicted of violent crimes, compared to 5% of those with bipolar disorder but without substance abuse, 5% among the unaffected siblings of bipolar patients, and 3% among general public control individuals.”

The question that arises for the partner of the bipolar alcoholic is whether it is worthwhile to save a marriage beset with this challenging combination of medical conditions. Certainly not every bipolar alcoholic spouse is violent, so this is not necessarily a question of spousal abuse.

But the 800-pound gorilla in the room is how long should well spouses endure the troubles in their marriages? Some spouses draw strength from their religion or marriage vows and see treatment for their sick spouse as “part of the package” they signed on for. Everyone knows bipolar alcoholics cannot control their bouts of mania and depression alone and frequently suck all the support and love they can get from their relationships—often without gratitude.

Well partners may often feel they are contributing the overwhelming amount of effort in their relationship–emotionally, physically and responsibly. The fact is that the bipolar alcoholic cannot control the negative symptoms and requires constant stimulation, love, support and reassurance to address both bipolar disorder and alcoholism.

A bipolar marriage is chock full of challenges most marriages don’t have. To have a success, both partners must acknowledge these challenges and work toward a compromise. The well partner cannot be the sole responsible partner for the success of the marriage. And the sick partner cannot “check out” of his marriage to through alcohol or participation in other risky behaviors. The patient may not be curable, but a successful marriage depends on the bipolar alcoholic making an effort.