One thing I’ve learned through alcohol support groups is that many people see their depression as having lifted when they stopped drinking. Depression and anxiety, for these people, were consequences of their drinking (though some say drinking may also have been a symptom of their depression). Many, many people have said that what they needed was not medication, or therapy, or in-patient stays, but a spiritual solution. They often suggest that depression is “just” a symptom of alcohol abuse, and will go away with time. It has been suggested that medication just doesn’t work and isn’t necessary when the main feature of a person’s illness is alcohol abuse. A man doing a chair the other day actually made a joke about having once been put on anti-psychotics during a stay in a psychiatric hospital.
I have bipolar disorder. It is a disorder characterised by soaring highs and suicidal lows. My drinking is affected by my moods: I might drink more when high, or low, than I do when in a “normal” state. But my bipolar disorder will not go away just because I have stopped drinking. Even the suggestion that my medication is unnecessary is ludicrous to me. People talk about putting their recovery first, above all else. For me, I need to put my treatment of my bipolar first and above all else. Without my medication, without the treatments I receive for the bipolar, I have nothing. I do not have a recovery to speak of when I am in the depths of a crippling despair, or leaping through open windows. Drinking or not drinking is irrelevant when I am really ill. I don’t have the luxury of coming off my medication on the off-chance that it is a spiritual sickness from which I suffer. There is no point in my simply “not drinking” if I don’t also have my medication. I recognise that drinking worsens my symptoms, and that it prevents my medication from working properly. I also recognise that drinking can be a symptom of my illness. But it is not the cause. I don’t know what causes bipolar, or why I have it. I do know that it isn’t cured by abstinence from alcohol.
I know not everyone is suggesting that I come off my medication, or that bipolar isn’t a serious illness. I know that each person can only speak from his or her own experience. But I think it’s a dangerous assumption that medication is unimportant as compared with The Programme because for many people mental health problems are not symptomatic of alcohol abuse- they are something that needs to be treated first, and with seriousness, if that person is to have any quality of life at all.