It’s a good idea for people who deal with emotional distress to be extra careful with alcohol, tranquilizers, and amphetamines, whether they take psychiatric medication or not. Roughly half the people with mental health diagnoses have co-occurring substance addiction. It can make a temporary, transformative problem much harder to get through, because you must also deal with the addiction.
The pros and cons of psychiatric labels and medication are not the subject of this blog.
The assumption in psychiatry has always been that people “self-medicate” their moods with addictive alcohol or unprescribed drugs before they seek psychiatric help. In sickness language, this is called “dual diagnosis” or “co-occuirring disorders.” In distress language, we might call it a huge, difficult, very complicated problem.
Prescribed addictive substances can make emotional problems worse. Unprescribed substances, including alcohol, can be as bad or worse.
They stay in your system for days, distorting your thinking and emotions, after the “high” goes away. If you keep using, without giving your system time to recover, as many people do, the effect gets much worse. And there is always the chance of developing a habit or physical addiction that is very hard to break.
If you take psych meds, the danger of alcohol addiction, harmful drug interactions, and lasting mood instability, are even greater.
That never stopped me from drinking, but I’ve always been extra careful. I never drink too much because I’ve always hated that feeling. Sometimes, I drink too often, but watch myself closely, and stop when it starts to scare me. Luckily, I’ve never been addicted to alcohol, but I tried binge drinking in college, like many kids do when they are too young to think well-known consequences could possibly affect them. I didn’t like being drunk, or even tipsy.
I Always Stay Home on New Year’s Eve
Because I hate being high on alcohol, and being around people who are, I’ll be staying home on New Year’s Eve, a personal tradition I started in high school, 10 years before I thought about any connection between emotional difficulty, alcohol, and psych meds.
I even stayed home when I was a cab driver in New York City, when a cabbie could make a week’s pay in a single night on New Year’s Eve. I just didn’t want to deal with drunk drivers or passengers.
What I call “New Year’s Eve for gentiles” never made sense to me. Nothing changes. The world goes from mid-winter to mid-winter. What’s to celebrate? .The days start getting longer, but without instruments, you don’t see that until February. Ancient sun worshippers had very sophisticated instruments, including the ancient ruin at Stonhenge, according to some theories. One experiment seemed to show people could use Stonehenge to predict a solar eclipse.
New Year’s Eve is just an excuse to drink. In fact, one frequent drinker I know calls New Year’s Eve “amateur night,” because people go out who don’t get high often enough to know how to behave, or even when to stop.
The Jewish New Year’s Eve comes when summer ends, fall begins, and the harvest, school or work year begin. That’s a change you feel in your bones and soul.
I Liked Pot Better, Till I Hated It
In college, and for years after that, I preferred the marijuana high to the alcohol high. I first smoked pot in college, when I was 18. Before 1965, only “beatniks,” jazz musicians, or people in black ghettos smoked – most people thought, including me. I was lucky, because my pot habit was psychological, not a physical addiction. Years later, when pot became my enemy, not my friend, I had no trouble stopping.
As I got older, I began to notice unpleasant side effects. I started isolating on this “social drug,” and the “recreational drug” stopped being fun. So I quit. Since m,y addiction was psychological, not physical like alcoholism, quitting was no problem. I did not even need a support group.
(In the ’60’s, we never imagined pot would be as potent as it is today, or that children would start in middle school or younger. I have seen children and teenagers who appeared to be addicted, and suffering cognitive limitation, because they started using today’s pot so young. I’m no longer certain, as I was in the ’60’s, that pot is not dangerous or habit-forming for children, whose brains are still developing.)
If pot, not alcohol, were traditional on New Year’s Eve, I probably would go out, because pot does not usually make people loud, belligerent, stupid, or annoying.
Alcoholism tends to run in families, but no one knows if the link is genetic, or behavior a child learns, very young, from his home environment. Some children of alcoholics don’t drink at all because alcoholism runs in their families – Mariel Hemingway, actress and granddaughter of Ernest, and my former governor, Theodore McKeldin of Maryland, to name two.
Please be careful with alcohol and drugs if you’re dealing with emotional problems, whether you take psych meds or not. Be extra careful on New Year’s Eve when the social pressure is greatest.
How will you spend New Year”s Eve? How do you relate to alcohol?