It began on a warm summer day in a field in Pennsylvania. It was 1974 and I was 10 years old. Kate, who lived across the street, was around 17. (No, there will be no Mrs. Robinson story here. Remember, I am gay). She and her friends were exciting to me with their cool long hair, and singing and art. On this day Kate introduced me to my first indulgence of the wicked lifestyle. We shared a Budweiser and smoked a joint. Man, now I made it in the world. I hated the joint but I didn’t want to look uncool so I pretended I liked it between all the coughing and hacking. I can’t imagine how I thought that she didn’t know it was killing me. She would also share her experiences of the cool acid trips she had, but dammit, was too selfish to share.
I think of Kate as one the last of the hippies. After graduating high school, she moved to California and joined a commune in Ojai. We exchanged postcards for awhile. The last one told me it was her week to take care of the goats. Wow, I thought, and so wanted to join a cool commune too. We lost touch after that and I always wonder where she is today. She’s probably a high level executive somewhere making a six figure income annually.
After Kate left, I continued my journey. When I tell Maurice about my wild and woolly youth he always looks at me with complete disbelief. What a nerd he was, I always think. Didn’t he do anything fun in school? I mean, come on, other teens regularly drank ‘til they blacked out, didn’t they? My other friends would also shake their heads when I described my crazy youth. Didn’t other kids keep beer on a snowy roof outside their window, or orange juice in cold stream behind their house for Vodka and orange juice before school? Ok, Ok, I’m really embarrassed to admit, but until the past couple of years I truly thought those were normal things that every teenager did. Wow, can you imagine if that was true? I’d hate to think of that world.
Last week, this I saw an article from Healthday News which begins with this:
THURSDAY, June 5 (HealthDay News) — Teens with bipolar disorder are at greater risk of smoking and substance abuse, says a Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) study that supports previous research.
The study used just over 200 students. About half of those were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the others with no mood disorder. They watched the kids from the age of 14 into adulthood. The results? The rate of substance abuse was 34% in the bipolar group compared to 4% in the control group
I admit I’m selfish, but I find some relief in the study. I wasn’t so weird after all. I was pretty normal for a kid who is bipolar. The numbers are staggering to me.
The study asks does having a mood disorder put children at risk of self medication, or is there a genetic switch activated in adolescence. If there is a switch, it would turn on both bipolar disorder and substance abuse. It is currently being studied in genetic and neuro-imaging studies of the group.
If it is the mood disorder that puts kids at risk (mood disorder first, substance abuse later), it would suggest that the youth are unknowingly trying to mask the symptoms of their bipolar disorder. Determining whether bipolar disorder begins before the start of substance abuse would prove of major importance. It may then be possible that intervention could be in place when children are diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
My feelings on all this are a big DUH! It has been my theory since being diagnosed that there is a close connection between substance abuse and bipolar disorder. Alcoholism is a disease and bipolar disorder disorder is a disease. Maybe what we’re finding is that they are really the same or at least very similar diseases. When I go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, I hear virtually the exact things being said as bipolar support groups.
I’m interested in hearing feedback from others, alcoholic or not, as to what they think of this study and my beliefs.