When someone we love and care about has an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol, it affects the entire family and is a difficult journey for all involved.
When that person is also struggling with another disorder, things can get even more complicated. It is not uncommon for individuals with addictions to suffer with another affliction also, such as depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome, etc. There are ways we can help them and ourselves when times get tough.
Becoming educated about the issue at hand is one of the most important things we can do. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels that affects the ability to carry out everyday tasks. People with bipolar disorder experience extreme highs when they feel that they can accomplish anything and are on top of the world, and extreme lows that are so low that suicide is a risk. Scientists agree that bipolar disorder is genetic. People with certain genes are more likely to develop this disorder than others.
Bipolar disorder is diagnosed using guidelines from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
There are four basic types of bipolar disorder.
- Bipolar l – Bipolar l is defined by manic (high) or mixed episodes that last at least seven days. Manic symptoms can be so severe that the person requires immediate hospitalization. Depressive episodes occur as well, usually lasting about two weeks.
- Bipolar ll – Bipolar ll is defined as a pattern of less severe manic episodes along with depressive episodes.
- Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified – This is the diagnosis when symptoms are clearly out of normal range but do not meet criteria for bipolar l or ll.
- Cyclothymic Disorder – This is a mild form of bipolar disorder. The symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements. People with cyclothymia have episodes of hypomania as well as depression for at least two years.
The ups and downs of this disorder can be scary and difficult to deal with. It is not uncommon for individuals with bipolar to self-medicate, which can lead to addiction.
If you have a family member who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, here are some tips to help him/her:
- Be aware – Look in their eyes. You can see by their eyes when their world has been shaken up.
- Engage them in hobbies – Doing activities that they enjoy is important and may help steer them away from unhealthy addictions.
- Communicate – Ask them how they are feeling and how you can help.
- Pick your battles – sometimes agreeing with them, even if you really do not agree, may help avoid an episode. Some things are just not worth arguing over.
- Look for triggers – Be aware of what stresses them out. It can be anything from traffic to people at work. There is a difference between being an enabler (helping them to avoid everything that may upset them), and being a rock that they can lean on for moral support through a rough patch. Find a balance between the two.
It can be emotionally and mentally exhausting living with someone who is addicted and also has a bipolar diagnosis. Caring for yourself is important.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Breathe – Taking deep cleansing breaths when things get tough can help you remain calm and centered, even if the person right next to you is not.
- Get away – It is not weakness if you need to get away. If your loved one is in a “mood,” it helps to get away for a bit. Take a drive, go for a walk, do something to nurture yourself.
- Enforce medication – Making sure they take their medication is important. If they refuse when they are in a manic episode, have a plan. Putting boundaries into place before an episode happens is important so they know what to expect.
- Love – When someone we love is acting in an unloving manner, it may be difficult to remember why we love them. When times are hard, recalling your love can save the day.
- Laughter – When a depressive mood strikes, try to infuse humor. Laughter is often the best medicine.
- Count your blessings – Staying grateful for what we have grows a positivity that is contagious.
There are many dual diagnosis programs designed to meet the needs of individuals struggling with this disorder and substance abuse or other addictions. These centers offer help for the client as well as family members. It helps to get involved and get support.