Bipolar: Alcohol, Nicotine, and Caffeine (oh my?)

One of the first regimens my therapist and psychiatrist implemented with me was absolutely no alcohol, nicotine, nor caffeine.  At the time I drank, smoked, and drank loads of caffeine.  Smoking was something I picked up during a manic episode.  And I became excessive with alcohol and caffeine at that time as well.

But I love whiskeys, especially single malt scotch.  My evening ritual was one or two “drams” of  scotch (of which I kept 3-5 different labels in my liquor cabinet).  This is how I would unwind in the evening.  I miss unwinding with the fragrance and taste of a good single malt.  I love things with a lot of complexity in them.  So, now I drink herbal teas and eat fancy cheeses;  a poor substitutes for whiskey.

I really didn’t smoke for that long, but it was hard to break the habit nonetheless.   I still crave cigarettes, and I miss smoking an occasional cigar.

Caffeine, whoa boy.  How can I work without caffeine?  I sit at a desk and build software for eight hours a day.  This takes a lot of concentration.  It’s not really a natural thing to do, working this way, and therefore it requires a stimulant for me to be successful with it.  Plus, I’m a little foggy with meds in the morning.

Now being an uber-compliant patient, I dutifully quit all three at the same time.  It’s been ten months now and still have cravings.  I have difficulty relaxing at night, and difficulty concentrating at work.  And sometimes I have difficulty coping with stress.   I never realized how much I depended on substances to regulate my life.

But regulation is the name of the game.  All three substances can have a deregulating effect on mood.  And that’s the point, right?  Regulation of mood?  And now I’ve traded my vice substances for pharmaceutical substances.

I feel alone in this.  My wife drinks coffee and wine.  No one I know with bipolar has eliminated caffeine, smoking, or alcohol entirely.  The most common story I hear is in cutting back.

So, if I had my druthers, I’d have an occasional drink, and a cup of coffee in the morning.  But here’s the thing, my therapist kicks my butt every time I lapse into ingesting what she calls “toxins”.  She requires me to keep a daily journal of sleep, triggers, toxins, and moods, and I make it a habit never to lie to my therapist.  But the real kicker is that my wife threatens to leave me if I allow a toxin into my body.   She’s terrified of me having another manic episode because they often lead to infidelity.

I recently pushed my psychiatrist on the matter of alcohol.

“Not even ONE glass of wine?” I whined.

I caught him off guard with this.   He cocked his head and asked, “Um, now remind me, what did I say about wine?”

He didn’t even remember forbidding me from alcohol?  Really?  I’ve been sweating this for ten months, and he doesn’t even remember?!

I said, “Well, technically you said no alcohol.”

“Yes, of course, I really would rather you stay off of alcohol.  But I’d like to get you to the point at which you are stable enough to have a glass of wine once in awhile.  I know that it gets really awkward in social situations when everyone is having a drink, because people wonder if you’re an alcoholic.”

Of course, this can only happen when I’m stable enough for long enough.  But should it happen at all?  Is it even worth the risk?  Could a glass of scotch start a chain reaction that ends in my screwing the neighbor’s wife?

It seems unlikely.


Is 2016 now.  I drink caffeine.  I quit smoking 3 months ago.  I quit drinking July 18th, 2015 because I’m an alcoholic.  When the doctor gave me the green light for drinking, it wasn’t long before I was drinking a minimum of 5 or 6 glasses of whiskey every night.  That may not seem like a lot to some people, but given my low tolerance it is a lot and well in the range of diagnostics of alcohol abuse.



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