Alcohol, Anxiety, Aspergers, Autism, Bipolar, Depression, Hypomania, Lithium, Mania

#Aspergers #Bipolar and alcohol

aspergers and alcohol picture

 

The love affair of our species with alcohol has been documented over millennia.

The Romans were heavy users of wine and even had their god Bacchus overseeing wine, fertility and ritual madness (sounds a lot like a diagnostic) Before this, in Ancient Greece, Bacchus was known as Dionysus. His worship by the Greeks included animal sacrifices!

Humans it seems, require very little prompting to use and overuse alcohol and this is the general population.

So, what’s the big deal with Asperger’s and Bipolar? Aren’t we just doing the same as everyone else?

The answer is yes and no but the central thesis here is to examine the causality and intersectionality of these 2 mental health groups with alcohol use.

Asperger’s and alcohol

 The Actually Autistic population might seem an unlikely recruitment pool for alcohol abuse. The primary reason that Aspies take to drinking alcohol, sometimes to excess, is to soothe their anxiety, social or generalized. We are (at least initially) using alcohol as an anesthetic.

Aspies (who aren’t bipolar) tend to stick with alcohol and don’t progress to the ranks of full blown substance abuse of hard drugs.

But why?

Aspies tend to have a very concrete, black and white view of the social world. Alcohol can be purchased at the local store and is a socially accepted form of drug which is legal and there’s no ‘stigma’ in being seen buying a fifth of Vodka.

This and other aspects of Asperger’s and Alcohol was elaborated in fine detail in the book ‘Asperger Syndrome & Alcohol’ by Matthew Tinsley.

In my case, another reason to remain ‘safely’ within the confines of alcohol was the cost. Half a gallon of liqor costs far less than illicit drugs and of course who knows what ‘the score’ has been cut with. This is an example of employing my logical and reasoning faculties that are the hallmark of an Aspie.

There was a time when I would have 2 or 3 drinks ‘at home’ to soothe my anxiety before going out to a social event that I loathed but had to attend for ‘political reasons’

The alcoholic threshold

 Matthew Tinsley also introduces the contrasting idea of Psychological addition and Physical addiction.

Matthew clearly describes his physical addiction to alcohol at the end of his drinking days, when he was putting away 3 quarts of Gin per day (some people don’t even drink that much water!) His drinking began as a self-medication tool, to manage the stress of his job. He also describes the horrific effects of being physically dependent on alcohol.

He was in his words ‘drinking all day and every day’

I never got anywhere close to this and I can’t imagine being in that place; Gin for breakfast, straight from the bottle!

That said I have, until recently, drunk alcohol steadily and throughout my life, sometimes heavily, often/usually at home and I really don’t know what prevented me from becoming an alcoholic. I have certainly made the quantitative investment, but it never happened.

At one point, during a lengthy work assignment thousands of miles from home, I was purchasing 2 and sometimes 3 bottles of Vodka a week from a local store and for such an extended period that store owner started discounting my bill!

Each time I stopped drinking for an extensive period, typically 3 months to 2 years, I would just stop cold turkey, on a dime. No more effort than taking out the garbage (with all the empty bottles inside)

My alcohol abuse was firmly contained within the Psychological addiction state. But I have been told by a Doctor that if left unchecked this will often progress to Physical addiction and full on alcoholism.

Autistic/Bipolar intersectionality

In her book Touched with Fire, Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison PhD addresses substance abuse noting that bipolar patients quite typically use alcohol when depressed or when anxious to take the edge off.

But the kicker for me was what she explained regarding the drug of choice for those with  Bipolar disorder in the hypomanic or manic phase. This was often/usually the domain of cocaine and amphetamines, to enhance or prolong the feeling.

This puzzled me, as a card-carrying user of prescription Lithium, as I used alcohol (when I was drinking) regardless of my mood state. It could be the most wonderful anesthetic, drinking myself into oblivion but if I was ‘out for the night’ during a hypomanic episode, booze stokes my fire and makes for a very animated soiree.

I believe this to be an example of Autistic override. Reason and logic tell me that if I get on the bus I should stay on the bus because I didn’t want to end up with my entire paycheck going up nose on payday, or just generally destroying me faster than alcohol ever could.

There is also the autistic tendency to follow routines. I drank alcohol, I’d always done alcohol, so that’s what I did and never sought out anything else (fortunately) and of course alcohol is legal…

My drinking phases and the always inevitable progression to heavier drinking, always began with an anxiety trigger, regardless of mood and to use a favorite phrase of @RichardDreyfuss my drinking and behavior would get ‘louder and faster, louder and faster’

I would progress from drinking at home to ‘going out’ and drinking in ‘colorful’ bars, where I could again, get ‘louder and faster’ – at this point my bipolar Illness has trumped my Autistic faculties of reason and logic and this would continue, for weeks or months, heavy drinking at home or ‘on the darkside’ and other reckless behavior.

Make no mistake, in highly elevated mood states I take on the full bipolar persona; wild, reckless, unpredictable out of sight and out of mind from my responsible and measured autistic self, who is in shackles in some dark and distant dungeon.

It is only when my bipolar mood returns to stable and the manic fog clears, that my Autistic abilities of reason and logic can again be accessed and my behavior reined in and I believe that I have probably, always been in this stable state when quitting booze.

Alcohol aside I tick all the diagnostic boxes for bipolar disorder, spending sprees, purchasing a car with almost all of the money I had at the time and then borrowing my rent money from my brother, falling over drunk and getting injured and even blacking out after overconsuming alcohol.

Causality

So, for those of us with bipolar with any history of substance abuse, the drugs can be incidental (Psychologically addictive), it’s really about what is your objective?

Quenching the anxiety or exorcising the depression (for a few hours) then it’s probably booze, or whatever medication/drugs the person happens to prefer.

If they are up and wanting to go higher, hypomanic/manic, then the drug is whatever works for them. I could get the job done with alcohol, as can many others but many can’t.

Now I get the job done with a Pescatarian diet, swimming a mile 3 or 4 times a week and…….nearly forgot…….Lithium.

With alcoholics I would go so far as to say that with some, maybe many, it wasn’t initially about the booze, unless they had a genetic predisposition to alcoholism.

They can begin their journey mired in stress, an Aspie struggling with social or work related anxiety, someone with bipolar looking for that high speed elevator, that person in a miserable marriage and on and on.

These people eventually (or, maybe quickly) develop a psychological addiction and the unlucky ones and this seems to be a lottery, go on to develop a full blown physical addiction, to alcohol or some other substance.

Bipolar seems to hardwire us to seek out substances that can manage our moods; this is affecting 40% + of us at some time in our lives.

Asperger’s seems to act as a safety net, when it gets a look in.

 

At the time of writing I am just over 100 days sober.

I am doing it alone but many/most seem to/need to travel this road within some kind of structure and support system.

I wish you a healthy life, whether or not you consume alcohol.

Be well.

 

Aspergers, Bipolar, Depression, Hypomania, Mania

#Aspergers #Bipolar and #genetics

Early years

This story begins about 10 years ago when I discovered that I am Autistic, my particular version being Asperger’s.

I went emotionally numb and introspective for a few days maybe a week and then cried for a month. I remember like it was yesterday the whirlwind of emotions that was unleashed: Sorrow for all the lost years and for that little boy about to leave the safety and security of home and enter the school (daily incarceration) system. Relief that I finally understood much of the what and the why and then gradually, curiosity. What is this thing called Asperger’s? How could I have missed it, how could everyone else have missed it?

I got IQ tested in 1st grade as a ‘problem child’. That was the entirety of the evaluation and because I scored in the 98th percentile the psychologist concluded that I was just bored. He missed it too.

So, my parents got me a math tutor for Wednesday evenings and I sat at the back of my class with a pile of 6 grade books, self-studying because I was ‘just bored’ That was the entirety of my school accommodation program.

As soon as my Asperger’s curiosity kicked in I started googling and buying books on Amazon, 20 or 30 of them. Technical books, biopics and even children’s story books to help me soothe the wounds of my youth. I inhaled them all in less than a month.

Asperger Generations

It was easy to see my Father on the autism spectrum. He was blue collar, old school and had more than a handful of routines and special interests. He worked his entire life in the Industrial age, factories, mechanical repetitive work, to which he was well suited.

He’d mow the lawn, grow vegetables and lived almost entirely in the physical world, just like me. He never went ‘out with the guys’, drank only at the new year with my mother and then at home. The closest he got to a social life was when he and my mother would visit the home of another couple, or vice versa, a few times a year.

I have no memories of my paternal Grand-father so I had to rely on my father’s recollections of growing up, in a very large family. He explained that my Grandad would tolerate no talking at the table and that if anyone spoke: ‘You finished your food? Leave the table’ This man didn’t like noise! I asked about his interests outside of work. He kept pigeons (red alert!) and Dad never remembered seeing any friends call on my Grandad. This man was more solitary than my Father.

Bipolar Generations

 My Asperger’s narrative worked perfectly for about 7 more years until my Bipolar diagnosis began to emerge. Here was an explanation for the rage I had consistently felt and displayed which is qualitatively different to an autistic meltdown (at least the ones I had experienced) but which I had never really examined in relation to Asperger’s traits: I had audited the Asperger’s diagnostic but hadn’t conducted a full audit of my behavior.

Bipolar was now in my face, but it didn’t come from Dad.

My most vivid memories of my home life were the constant battles between my Mother and Father. The yelling and screaming would bounce off the walls like ricochet bullets over the most trivial of disagreements or even just innocent misunderstandings. My Mother’s mood could change explosively on a dime. She would also regularly become melancholic with me.

My Father, may he Rest in Peace, never laid a finger on my Mother or the children but the battles took their toll so that he would just leave the room, in silence, go upstairs and go to bed, regardless of the time; defeated again. My siblings and I were also targeted by my Mother, but I never really bought into it, incurring much wrath, with my Father acting as referee.

 Bioplar: A blast from the past case-study

By the time I was diagnosed with bipolar I had completed a decade of family history research, especially my paternal grandfather’s line but never for mental health documenting. I wanted to know ‘who we were’ and where we came from. As a young man, Grandad had made an undocumented name change and severed all links with his family. I only found out about this, from my Father, when I graduated College! Minor details to my parents I guess.

I had amassed a huge archive of NYC birth, marriage and death certificates along with copies of the Federal census.

The final genetic link was the key that unlocked the secret that had been hidden amongst these papers in plain view.

I located a copy of a document stating that my Great, Great Grandfather had been admitted to Belleview at age 79, having been found ‘destitute’. This was 5 years after his wife of 52 years had passed. Perhaps he just fell apart when she died?

So, I went back and reread the story, following the timeline in my archive but through a new lens.

Several generations of my family arrived in America in 1868. My Great, Great Grandfather is recorded in 1870 NYC census with 3 children and with savings that would last, maybe 1 year or so.

Ten years later, he is recorded in San Francisco, with 7 children, running a grocery store, despite being a glazier by trade.

Then in 1890 he is recorded back in NYC and in 1900 he’s still in NYC, this time helping to support a daughter and her family and still working as a glazier.

It isn’t clear whether the family travelled by stage coach, rail road or by ship, to San Francisco but what is clear is that this would have been an arduous journey with 4 young children and not inexpensive either.

But to what end? To open a grocery store in San Francisco, a trade in which he had absolutely no experience, may very well have been a decision made on a whim in a hypomanic or manic state.

He stuck it out in San Francisco for five or maybe ten years, but then high tailed it back to NYC, now with with 7 children, burning more money for another arduous journey.

Reckless behavior indeed and on a theatrical scale.

All hidden in plain view to a genealogist who is simply looking for parents, or parents of parents.

Back in NYC, I suspect much of the money that remained was used up supporting his daughter and children.

When his wife passed he probably lost the only structure that he had known in his life and quite possibly his nurse maid.

The story does have a happy ending. My Great, Great Grandfather lived out his last years with one of his daughters and her husband. They were a wealthy couple and he would have wanted for nothing.

I tracked down his headstone in Queens, NYC, buried of course with his wife, black granite, impervious to the elements, reunited and finally at Peace. I wept for a while and then placed a stone on their grave.

Epilogue

When I tracked down the paper trail of the daughter who had cared for my Great, Great Grandfather, I almost fell over when I read the name of her husband.

It was the family name my grandfather had assumed and may he Rest in Peace too.