Behavioral Addictions

Unhealthy Habitual Eating Practices:

  • Fixation On Certain Foods- i.e. Coffee, Carbohydrates
  • Binge Eating

During my undiagnosed years I found myself fixated on certain foods.  I had to eat them. And, usually I binged on them.  These weren’t your typical cravings; I needed the food like it was a drug, a fix.  The foods I found myself obsessed with unfortunately did not belong to the healthiest of food groups, they typically could be found in the junk food category. When I finally was diagnosed and medicated for my illness I thought these urges would be a thing of the past.  Sadly, I was soon to realize that some bipolar drugs can actually intensify these fixations on certain foods, like carbohydrates- in particular, sweets.

Some of the Foods I Fixated On:

 

  •  Chocolate
  • Potato Chips (Ketchup or Dill Pickle)
  • Chocolate Ice Cream
  • Doughnuts (Cherry Sticks, those little doughnuts covered with icing sugar)
  • Cakes (Twinkies, Cheesecakes)
  • Pastas
  • Pizza

I have known several bipolar sufferers in the past who have had a serious addiction to chocolate.  They hoarded it in their hospital rooms like it was a coveted treasure.  One of my friends on the ward would drink hot chocolate every evening straight from about8:00pm until lights out.  This wasn’t ordinary cocoa; she would pour three packets of instant hot chocolate mix in a mug and then add heated up chocolate milk she had purchased earlier that day from the hospital cafeteria.  When she ran out of chocolate milk she would use coffee instead of water with the hot chocolate mix.  And, that didn’t include the chocolate she had stashed in her room that she munched on throughout the evening as well.  I honestly don’t believe the nurses were aware she was consuming that much caffeine on a daily basis.

Binge eating is an addiction I still struggle with today.  I know quite a few other bipolar sufferers who also wrestle with this vice.  It is something I do when I am feeling deep depression and wish to soothe my inner aching with food.  It is not the actual consuming of the food that assuages my angst for a while; it is the act of savoring the taste of it.  I have no “off” switch, I just keep feeding the emptiness inside.  Every time I experience a prolonged sense of anxiety I gravitate towards the fridge.  Depression is not the only time I suffer this intense desire for gluttony, during a manic episode the need to binge becomes almost oppressive.  It is the drive to appease deep stirring desires that creates the urge to binge eat.  A person suffering a mania is so overwhelmed and driven to satiate carnal desires that gluttony becomes a form of pleasure.

Some Possible Side Effects of Unhealthy Eating Practices:

  • Caffeine products can cause conflicts with psychiatric medications such as Benzodiazepines.
  • Unhealthy eating habits can contribute to a poor diet lacking in necessary nutrients.
  • Binge eating can cause the sufferer to experience even greater angst due to the guilt that may develop after an overeating incident.
  • Binge eating and food fixations may cause weight gain, contributing to a low self esteem.
  • These habits may develop into eating disorders.
Heightened Sexual Behavior: 

  •  Intense Appetite for Sexual Contact and Touching

Now, I am not saying in any way, shape, or form that bipolar sufferers are deviant or perverse.  I have found one of the most common denominators amongst most of the sufferers I have known is an intense sexual propensity.  They crave sensual experiences, even if it is minor contact.  Many times this desire for intimate contact can drive them into a stream of sexual partners and unhealthy relationships.  Sometimes a bipolar sufferer can completely overwhelm their life partner with their appetites and urges.  They are sensual beings.  Sadly, these appetites can ruin marriages and cause infidelity.  Many times these bipolar sufferers turn to such activities because they feel it may ease the pain they are feeling inside, desperately seeking to replace pain with pleasure, finding some release.  It is also an escape mechanism, and not a very efficient one to say the least.  Some fellow sufferers have confessed to me that they are hopelessly addicted to sex.  It becomes their high, they crave the exhilaration of the act, the rush of a new, perhaps risqué experience. Bipolar sufferers are not rampant sex fiends always on the hunt for a score that is not the type of personality I am describing here.  Typically, they strive to remain with one partner at a time.  I wish to state that the sexual activities mentioned in this excerpt are not criminal in nature.  This sexual drive intensifies with mania.

  • Possible Side Effects of Heightened Sexual Behavior:
  •  Unfulfilling Relationships,  Divorce, Infidelity
  • Immaturity in Intimate Relationships
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases/Infections
  • Unplanned Pregnancy
  • Cause Your Self Esteem to Plummet Because of the Situations You Have Allowed Yourself to be Placed in.
  • An Increased Promiscuity Due to Unfulfilled Expectations, Low Self Esteem, Need to Satiate a Void Inside, Risqué Activities Breed More Risk Taking In Sexual Behavior.
  • Multiple Sexual Partners Can Cause Cervical Complications
  • Obsessive Sexual Fantasies Can Cause Difficulties In Already Established Relationships
  • Sexual Obsessions Do Not Result in Mature Long-Term Relationship
  • Immature Concepts of Intimacy

Financial Mismanagement/Flagrant Misuse of Personal Funds:

  •  Wanton Spending
  • Risky Financial Endeavors

There are times in many bipolar personalities’ lives when they seem to lose the concept of reality in relation to their financial status.  They spend money like their possession of it has no end or monetary meaning.  I, myself, have found myself in this particular predicament more than once in my life.  Interestingly enough this is one of the symptoms of bipolar disorder; it usually crops up when a person is experiencing a mania.  But, in my experience it doesn’t always have to herald a manic episode.  The need to spend money is a desperate desire within me, a way for me to assert my personality in a world I feel otherwise powerless within.  Many times I purchase things on the fly, things that I do not want or need.  But, I had the freedom to buy them at the time they were purchased and that gave me a sense of a heady power.  Instant gratification.  When you live with a disorder that leaves you powerless to many of life’s struggles, the ability to acquire objects of one’s desire becomes quite addictive.  This is especially captivating in a society that measures one’s prestige by his/her accoutrements.  In the hands of a manic depressive, in the wrong emotional state, a credit card can be a messy piece of business.

  • Much of my spending is focused on products that make me feel sexy and attractive. The acquiring of clothing and other merchandise that shores up my need to be provocative, as well as shores up my low self image, is an enticing addiction.

Along with uncontrollable spending comes risky financial endeavors, these enterprises are a particular lure to many bipolar personalities.  Bipolar persons are extremely creative and often have an assortment of grand ideas for their lives.  They want to be the owner/operators of their own businesses, creators of lifeworks of art, undertake great pilgrimages, or donate large sums of money to causes they deeply believe in, and so on. Now, these endeavors may seem noble and sound, but many times they are based on extremely fragile foundations.  The person behind all these grand schemes is caught up by a vision, a grand illusion of what his/her life is about to become, not the reality of what the project entails.  Plans are not thought out to the proper conclusions and financial strategies are tragically not in place.  Sometimes the bipolar person becomes the victim of a criminal mind, one who purposely cheats him/her out of their lifesavings.  Bipolar personalities suffer from a sense of grandeur that their lives are meant for greatness.  The lure of a “get rich quick” scheme or the chance to create a perfect life for themselves is often too hard to resist.  I have known a few manic depressives who have become the victim of risky financial endeavors more than a few times in their lifetimes.  They are hopelessly addicted to an elusive slip of a dream and cannot resist chasing it like one who continuously seeks the end of the rainbow.

Some Possible Side Effects of Financial Mismanagement/Flagrant Misuse of Personal Funds:

  • Bankruptcy
  • Bad Credit Record
  • Loss of Lifesavings
  • Marital Difficulties
  • Overwhelming Debt Leading to Emotional Crisis
  • Loss of Income/Job/Career
  • Estrangement with Family Members/Friends Due to Unpaid Loans
  • Loss of Family Home/Car/Possessions
High Risk Lifestyles/Adrenaline Addiction: 

  •  Seeking High Risk Lifestyles
  • Self Harm/Endangering Personal Wellbeing/Adrenaline Addiction

In my experience with bipolar disorder and fellow sufferers I have found that many of us, especially when not following a medication regimen, are enticed by a highly volatile lifestyle.  The draw of drama and intrigue, the rush of excitement, the crush of impending crisis is too hard to resist.  It is like we, as bipolar personalities, are hard wired for high risk lifestyles.  We don’t have the emotional fortitude to withstand the all the turmoil that such a life is saddled with, but it is like we are drawn to the flame and can’t fly away even when our wings are on fire.  There is this carnal drive deep within us that compels us to keep seeking out adrenaline charged situations.  It becomes an addiction, to wringing the very essence of life out of every moment.  Unfortunately, even when life is going well, and the sufferer seems to have finally put their life together, the draw of that addiction can rear its ugly head.

 There was a time in my life when I had an addiction to pain.  I would purposely cause myself injury for the sheer pleasure of it.  Sometimes I would slice my skin, burn myself with cigarettes, and even bash my head against the floor until I drew blood.  There were deeper issues behind this dark passion than just the sensation, but it did become an addiction.  I have gotten to know many bipolar sufferers who have disclosed to me that they too have shared this habit.  (For further information go to my section on Slicing)  It is more common than one thinks and sadly many suffer in the silence of shame.  I want to add that my psychiatrist stresses that my self harm tendencies most likely stem from an additional mental disorder that I have been diagnosed with, Borderline Personality Disorder.  But, I have met and heard from many bipolar sufferers who display these behaviors and do not have a duo diagnosis such as mine.

Have you ever observed a person willfully endangering his/her life?  I have and I know that my friends have seen me do it multiple times.  It’s like he/she has a ludicrous intent to die, and at times he/she doesn’t care who he/she takes with him/her.  Daring fate to snuff him/her out or at least have the audacity to just try it.  Many times in my past I have purposely placed myself in harms way, sometimes hoping I would die, other times just for the sake of feeling the razor’s edge between life and death.  There was a time that I walked along the very edge of the top of an apartment building and every second step I hopped on one leg.  The building was eight stories high and I can still remember what the people looked like as they stood on the sidewalk beneath me.  My friends watched in horror terrified to come too close unless I jumped.  Eventually a few of them managed to grab the bottom of my legs and haul me off the ledge.  I am not talking about rock climbing or sky-jumping, I am referring to situations that endanger one’s life with no thought to safety precautions. Walking into on-coming traffic in rush hour on a freeway or standing on a set of railway tracks playing chicken with an oncoming speeding locomotive, these are precisely the type of activities these personalities gravitate towards.  Extreme adrenaline junkies, many people might tend to prefer to lean towards describing these sorts as idiotic and a lot of the time attention seeking lunatics.  Ouch, that’s harsh.  Remember there is an addiction behind these actions and a disorder that even the sufferer can hardly fathom the depths of.

Some Possible Side Effects of High Risk Lifestyles/Adrenaline Addiction:

  •  Grievous Bodily Harm
  • Death
  • Scarring
  • Anti-Social Behavior/Alienation
  • Increased Risk of Addiction to Drugs/Alcohol
  • Unsatisfying Relationships/Abusive Relationships

Why do we do it?  I think that is a question for the ages, asked by family and friends of generations of addicts.  In the case of bipolar sufferers many experts believe substance abuse occurs due to the addict’s compulsion to self-medicate.  There are some experts who disagree with this conclusion.  In looking back on my own substance abuse and that of other’s I have come across in this life I tend to see both parties stance on the issue. There were times when I engaged in addictive pursuits as a means to self-medicate.  You see, a bipolar sufferer endures a multitude of symptoms they have to contend with on a daily basis; can’t calm down/panic attacks, can’t sleep, can’t stop sleeping, can’t eat, low energy, high energy, racing thoughts, emotional numbness, can’t think, thinks too much, and the list goes on.  There are times when a sufferer just wants relief by any means possible, and if that is through the abuse of a substance, sadly, that is what may eventually occur.  These substances become psychological pacifiers.

On the other hand, there were times in my life when I felt an internal drive to shift into a higher gear, a more intense experience.  This is an issue that has plagued me through most of my life, a dreadfully extreme personality.  It was during these periods of my substance abuse that I actively sought out a high to excite a mania or intensify a depression.  Yes, I even found solace in magnifying the degree of my depression, wallowing in it, one could say.  Some bipolar sufferers seem to indulge in enhancing their moods, especially a mania.  The best way to describe it is; as if they crave a faster speed, a greater adrenaline rush, to kick it into overdrive.  The feeling one experiences is something inexplicable, utterly and terrifyingly exhilarating.  You are out of control, you know it, and you can’t control your faculties enough to care.  This is not a healthy state of reference for sane thought or decision making.

There were also times when I would rush headlong into a binge of drugs and alcohol just to numb my mind into nothingness, just to escape into an existence where my thoughts couldn’t bind me to this world.  A place where it didn’t matter that reality and fantasy were not congruent, I could still forget the Hell I had gotten myself into for the time being and life was, if only for a fleeting moment, grand, or, at least wrapped in an entrancing embrace of delirium.

For those who end up addicted, their “habit” seems to inadequately address a psychological/emotional hollow in their souls that is aching to be filled.  It is almost like their internal chemistry is missing a key component and they need to supplement its absence with their addiction.  The unfortunate reality is many times the addiction only serves to further compound the sufferer’s psychological/emotional distress and aids the addict in avoidance of the issues surrounding the dilemma all together.

  • If you suffer from one of the above listed addictions and feel that your situation is one of urgency, please contact a local addictions group in your area.  Talk to your doctor about the assortment of treatments available to you and seek help.  There is hope for bipolar addicts, I was able to fight my way clean of substantial substance/habitual abuse and I am here today to testify that life does not have to be one in which you are chained to an addiction.  Have hope and have quality of life.

It is believed that a bipolar addict suffers a comorbid condition.  (Some information materials label this as a dual disorder.)  This means there is the presence of two or more disorders in an individual at the same time.  An addict can suffer from several disorders at once, a mental health disorder and can even have more than one substance addiction.  When the sufferer is treated in therapy they are seen not only as a bipolar patient, but also separately as an addict.  The therapist must be sensitive enough to treat both disorders with equal importance.  There is a vast array of treatments for addiction, whether they be substance abuse or habitual behavior, it is crucial to find what works for you and one that you can live with a lifetime.  Addiction doesn’t disappear with withdrawal or change of lifestyle; it is a disorder you will live with for the rest of your natural life.  And, perhaps due to bipolar disorder, will be a constant specter haunting your thoughts.  What is important to understand is that there is a better existence; you can change your circumstances.  You don’t have to allow your addiction to be the master of how you choose to live your life.  But, only you can change the choices you make, the habits you choose to foster, and the actions you undertake in life.

  •  Don’t use your bipolar disorder as a crutch to avoid dealing with an addiction.
  • Don’t replace one addiction with another.
  • There is no situation in life that warrants the need to abuse one’s self.
  • There is no situation in life that warrants the need to abuse others and manipulate their desires to help you, love you, and provide for you for the express purpose of fostering an addiction.
  • If you don’t want to help yourself, no one else can do it for you.
  • You are human, you are fallible, and the systematic abuse of your body will only end in chronic illness and potentially your death.You are responsible for your deeds, be they induced by your addiction or not.  Part of healing is coming to terms with the reality of your behavior and actions, it is fundamental that you take ownership of your lifestyle.

Addiction is not a way of life, it is a means to an end:

  •  of your health
  • of relationships/of families/of friendships
  • of your mental stability
  • of your economic stability
The “happiness” an addiction will provide for you is fleeting at best and always dependent on another fix.  The satisfaction life can bring you without the need to always set up another boost, without the ties that bind you to addiction, can be permanent and, oh so liberating.  To those of you reading this section suffering at this moment with an addiction I wish to say good luck and take courage.  Life is precious; it is an experience, one that we must all take part in.  I wish you the very best and ask you to take very good care of yourself.

 

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