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Son with bipolar using marijuana

answered 07:22 PM EST, Fri August 19, 2011
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My son is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and he is medicated and stabilized and doing well away at living at home while attending community college. He had previously attended university and lived in the dorms and it was the meltdown there, that I think was precipitated by a lot of drug and alcohol use, which led to his dropping out of school and to his diagnosis and treatment.
His doctor has instructed him very clearly to avoid alcohol and drugs as they can reduce the effectiveness of his medications and can even lead to manic or depressive episodes. But last night I surprised my son in his room and found him smoking marijuana. He was using a pretty impressive bong contraption to smoke it, so it is pretty clear to me that because he has this machine to smoke with he is smoking marijuana fairly often.
He says that he has tried drinking and smoking pot on his meds and that alcohol does make him feel worse but that marijuana just relaxes him and doesn’t seem to affect the effectiveness of his meds. I am not sure. He is doing pretty well on his own and I don’t want to treat him like a baby but on the other hand things were pretty bad for a while and I really don’t want to see him so depressed like he was before. How concerned should I be by his using marijuana?

Jody Hansen Says...

Jody Hansen J. Hansen
MA, LPC, NCC, FAPA

You should be concerned about his smoking marijuana. His use of marijuana is another way of "self medicating". What he really needs are to learn other skills to cope with life. Marijuana use can also lead to amotivational syndrome, where one loses motivation regarding life skills and goals. Also, there is a concern that he is "testing" other drugs and alcohol to see what he can use along with his medication. Often times people with bipolar disorder can have problems with judgment, especially when in a manic cycle. He may not be able to judge the limits of his use. What he needs, aside from medication for his bipolar disorder is ongoing counseling as an adjunct to his treatment. I would find a licensed counselor who has knowledge of bipolar disorder and the frequent use of substances that make this dual diagnosis difficult but "do-able" to treat. Good luck with your son.

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