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Bipolar people tend to have problems with substance abuse, with much greater frequency than other mood disorders. The usual statistics bandied about suggest that around 50% of us end up with alcohol or substance addictions, often due to self-medication to alleviate symptoms (usually prior to starting treatment). Count me in.

I’ve smoked pot for over 10 years, and after starting grad school for my MS in 2005, I started drinking again. Previously, I drank in undergrad for a few years but gave it up entirely in favor of pot. I didn’t want to admit it to myself or anyone else, but the alcohol was really becoming a problem in the last year or so. And the pot is/was definitely an addiction, even if not a dependency, because although I know that it’s not good for me, I’d keep doing it and never wanted to stop. It contributed to binge eating (already a problem with my bipolar depression) and it’s technically a depressant, so you know, that’s obviously not so smart, is it? But it was one of the only things that let me relax and would reduce anxiety enough to keep going

Note that I just said “was.” My psychiatrist is requiring that I give it up if I want the ADHD meds and will be enforcing it with urine tests. I’ll skip the extended rant about how extremely pissed off I am about being coerced by the threat of withholding meds that I really, really need. Honestly, I need the ADHD meds even more than the pot. And logically, it’s a really good idea to get myself stable on meds without the interference of other psychoactive substances before screwing around with the mix.

So. As of December 27, I stopped smoking pot. It’s a matter of self-control; I’ve done it before, and I can do it again. It’s not actually that hard for me (some addiction, eh?) but it has been more of a struggle this time on the emotional level, because it’s an indefinite but probably extended abstinence from something I really enjoy and it’s not something I decided that I want to do for myself. I’m not “ready” to quit, but I don’t have a choice.

And here I am, 4 days sober from pot. I don’t like it. I got over the withdrawal after a couple days of extreme irritability that makes me rant like crazy, but my moods drop substantially when I don’t “abuse” pot and alcohol, even when I’m on meds (and yes, I’m 100% compliant.) I’ve only tried abstinence during winter months when my moods are already lower, however, so I can’t claim causality since I haven’t controlled for seasonal variability. The last time I gave up both pot and alcohol at the same time for a month was February of this year. It was horrible. I was on a jacked-up dose of antidepressants and no ADHD meds and no mood stabilizers, so that probably had as much to do with it as the sobriety (and I still resent that damn psychiatrist so much.)The biggest thing I’ve learned from all of this is that it’s a really bad idea to make more than one or two major changes at a time, because it really screws me up.

Anyway, at the time I wrote a blog post called “Sobriety Sucks” but in a fit of insanity, deleted everything on this blog. I still think sobriety sucks. I still can’t relax. My anti-anxiety meds are a joke; they’re less effective than pot, and the side effects are a lot worse. The psychiatrist won’t give me benzos, so I’m stuck with this and “hot baths” which I don’t take because they don’t work. Sorry, I’ve written off all the Internet’s brilliant wisdom when it comes to suggestions of things to do to relieve anxiety other than drugs, because they don’t work. The only reliable solution for me is backpacking, and that’s really not going to happen in the middle of the winter when I’m trying to write a dissertation. But I’ve tolerated this crap for so long that, well, what’s new? Other than immense, ever-increasing stress from swiftly arriving dissertation deadlines. <insert instant panic attack here>

I’m still trying to take it real easy on the alcohol, but that’s a story for another day.