The Myth of Self-Medication

Whisky Drinker Prefers A

As a card-carrying alcoholic bipolar bear there’s little anyone can teach me about denial. When confronted with a choice between the easy way and my way – well – do I even need to tell you which I chose? Frequently I was so defiant that – if you told me to turn left, I turned right simply to annoy you…and show you that I could. Demonstrating my will became more important than doing what was best for me. I paid dearly for this commitment to ill-considered independence.

There’s an old expression that goes – A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. There is no equivalent saying in the world of mental health but we sure could use one because acting as one’s own therapist – counselor – physician is rather like performing an emergency appendectomy on yourself while drunk. Sadly, however, the practice is common, as evidenced by the hilariously euphemistic phrase, self-medication.

In the rooms one meets so many people who have wrestled with clinical depression; alcohol abuse was their way of “self-medicating” and the results are horrific. But my most vivid introduction to the concept came as I attempted the trapeze act of managing manic highs, using pot and alcohol to hold onto that magic point of euphoria. Repeated crashes taught me that pouring booze and other drugs on mania is really pouring gasoline on a bonfire; one is in tremendously bad faith if one acts surprised when the building burns down.

To be fair, talk therapy, which is where the real action and healing can be found, is so time-consuming and expensive that insurance companies are squeezing it out of fashion. We have become overly reliant on psychotropic pharma to manage mental illness, and it is an imprecise science. Some meds are nasty, some have ugly side effects, some are not well understood, and many are expensive – even if one has coverage.

So, for the arrogant imbecile anxious to ignore the medical community’s collective wisdom, there are plenty of plausible excuses to avoid the obviously superior path of care and treatment under the supervision of a trained professional. Bipolars are absolutely famous for doing this; going off their meds when things improve and taking back their will, no matter the seriousness of their transgressions.

If you have a bipolar bear in the family complaining about side effects, it’s okay to listen seriously and sympathetically, but, it might be the first step on a road culminating in self-administered brain surgery. Remember that alcoholics are world-class liars and bipolars, especially those early to recovery, are amazingly accomplished in the art of rationalization.

Self Medication

If You Need Brain Surgery - Involve Other People

The first time I heard the term “self-medication” I laughed out loud. In searching for an analogy one thinks immediately of the old adage – the lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client. But that’s when the stakes are low, going free or going to jail. How about when the stakes are high? Sanity versus insanity? Life versus death?

Jean Paul Sartre, a very clever fellow, used to play Russian roulette because he was bored. Well, self-medication is like playing Russian roulette with one big difference, all the gun’s chambers contain live ammo.

Self-medication – (the term itself is preposterous) – fits nicely into the insufferable arrogance and egotism of mania – as if to say – I can manage this little spot of bother myself with nothing more complicated than some garden-variety drugs. I remember it all too vividly – “throwing gasoline on a fire”.

I adored the adrenaline rush of mania, and I tried to “manage it” with marijuana and alcohol – marijuana to knock the sharp edges off the mania and make it smooth and yummy – and alcohol to slow me down and mellow me out to the point where I wasn’t constantly irritated by the sheer inanity of the huddled masses and their inability to keep up with me.

It was an inspired strategy except that it wasn’t and a brilliant idea except that it almost got me killed – folks – when it comes time for brain surgery you really need to involve others, professionals – people who actually know what they’re doing.

The hubris and sense of entitlement one encounters in a person at the apex of mania are astounding, but add in the loss of inhibitions and appalling judgment that arise from drunkenness and you have a confident imbecile who thrives on risk-taking and abusing authority.

Some people can drink; I’m not three of them. It would be nice if the folks who made booze would take people like me into consideration. For example, if booze came with realistic warning labels with statements like these.

WARNING: Excessive Use Of This Product Might Cause You To:

· Invade Russia during the winter.
· Buy life insurance from a guy named Guido.
· Toss your Rolex onto the chips in the expectation of filling out an inside straight.
· Believe your boss really wants your advice about improving the department.
· Think you’ve suddenly become a great singer who will dazzle them all on karaoke night.
· Tell the cop of course you knew it was a one-way street; you were only driving one way.
· Impress your mother in law with that joke about the octopus and the bagpipes.
· Get the word THINK tattooed on your forehead backwards so you can read it in the mirror while you’re shaving.

The list would be long. Perhaps reading it would give us time to get over the absurd idea that we can “medicate” ourselves using drugs that are designed to rob of us of our reason.