Drunk Bipolar Kids

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.

14 comments on Drunk Bipolar Kids

  1. Hey Bradley -I love your post – your research is something I have seen first hand and I am sure D would agree as well. Kids who go undiagnosed for mental health issues tend to “self-medicate” as they say in the school psychologist’s office. I wish parents realized that they needed to give their bigger kids (aka teenagers) just as much TLC and medical attention as their little ones. It is so important! Also – simply slowing down and taking the time to have a conversation with them – letting them talk and us as adults just listen would sure teach us a lot too.D was the wild one – so he’s in charge of bail outs and principal office visits if need be. I’m more like McB… 😉 I looked innocent and prefer to have people think I was (wink, wink).Cheers to Kate and her 6 figure, goat feeding lifestyle whereever she is :)Kim

  2. I totally agree with Kimala “self-medicating” happens with much frequency especially with mood disorder…you know what it is like in the manic phase; depression, just a little something to pick you up or numb you out. I don’t know it if the type of clients that I’ve worked with or what, but I’ve seen it a lot in schizophrenia drugs, but especially alcohol…cheaper and more accessible. One guy, hid his schizophrenia behind his alcoholism so well that it wan’t until his late thirties that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Took me two years of teaching his sister that it was hidden behind the drugs and alcoholism. Schizophrenia as with bipolar’s general onset is in late teens/early adulthood with some symptoms barely showing when younger. Self-medicating happens all the time…all the time…sad part is that people forget that there could be a serious underlying cause and get so focused on the substance. But, you may not see the problem until they are clean…it is so tough for them.

  3. Great points Kimala and Clueless. I think I come across as sounding like I’m not supporting A.A. and that’s not the case at all. Had it not been for getting sober, I would never have been diagnosed for having a mental illness. What concerns me is the number of people in A.A. who get upset when any scientific ideas are presented. They seem to forget that the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous has a line that says “Physicians who are familiar with alcoholism are familiar with alcoholism agree that there is no such thing as making a normal drinker out of an alcoholic. Science may one day accomplish this, but it hasn’t done so yet.”That was written in 1935. Perhaps we have reached that “yet”. Why do so many alcoholics want to be upset by these studies rather than see the positives in them? It doesn’t demean the program in any way. Whether alcoholism becomes curable, or bipolar disorder does, or both, I think it would be a wonderful thing. Let us be grateful, not hurt because our world may change.

  4. But you were married to a lady once too so you didn’t always live a gay lifestyle!

  5. First off I have 2 words about this post, “NO DUH!” After realizing and understanding a little more about the condition that Bradley (and so many others) suffers from, it was rather easy to suspect that the alcoholism was part and parcel to the bipolar-ism, and that in turn to the seizures. Second, Kimala, I totally agree with you on the teens needing the same amount (not type) of attention given to young children. Sitting and listening to teens can be fun. I love listening to my niece, she speaks at a speed that no adult would normally be able to handle, but for some odd reason I’m able to catch every word, understand it, and then interpret for others. I was also able to do the same thing for my grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. And let’s not even get in to the interpreting between the two. LOL I think everyone deserves the common courtesy of being truly listened to.Third, as to Michelle’s Dad’s comment about the “gay lifestyle”, I want to clarify something here. Bradley has and always will be GAY. When he was married, it was not due to him being “straight”, but rather due to the society he lived in at the time that told him to be anything other than “straight” was wrong and could/would most likely get you killed.Peace & Love, Y’all!

  6. Nice to be heard. I agree. Love to all and freedom paramount!Michelle’s dadp.s.and I’m with you Bradley till the end of time!Michelle’s dad

  7. It’s okay to present differing points of view. Theories change continuously it’s one of the things that makes life so wonderful. Love again and again, Michelle’s Dad

  8. Zathyn, because “others” wouldn’t believe it without the study is all I can think of. Like you, I believe if they would just interview us and not do an expensive study a lot of money would be saved.

  9. I think a lot of these studies spend a whole lot of money on the blindingly obvious. Like you I’ve always known mental disorders tend to go hand in hand with substance abuse. I started smoking when I was nine and dipping into my parent’s alcohol cabinet around the same age. By the time I was seventeen I was a binge drinker. Smoking dope and eating ‘happy cookies’ were also something I did while drinking myself into a stupor. I drink occassionally now, I’m very aware of my binge drinking problem. In January, after several years on the wagon, I fell off and wiped myself out completely. Not sure why these researchers spend so much cash on these theories when we could tell the world for nothing!Best Wishes, Zathyn

  10. I didn’t experience any alcohol until my late teens, but after that I did all I could to get some.I think there’s more than a possibility that they’re linked. It would surprise me in the least.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: