Skip to main content

Demi Lovato -- Bipolar Warrior

The news story caught my ear.  I don't usually follow celebrity news.  But I had just read an article about Demi Lovato in a NAMI magazine.  I listened for some report of who she is and what she represents.  I wondered about a recent depression, a suicide attempt, perhaps.

Nope, not a word.  Celebrity drug overdose.  That's the story.  I swear they wrote this story thirty years ago, periodically pull up the file, change the name, and post.

She deserves better.  I'll just have to write my own post.

Lovato has long been open about her mental illnesses, bipolar, bulimia, self harm, drug abuse, and alcoholism.  Her celebrity as a pop star is significant to the story in one way.  It has given her a voice to advocate for those who have no voice.

Celebrity is not a risk factor for substance abuse.  But an alcoholic father is.  She has the genetic load to develop the condition.

Celebrity is not a risk factor for substance abuse.  But childhood trauma is.  She was bullied as a child, to the point of resorting to home schooling.

Celebrity is not a risk factor for bipolar, either.  But substance abuse and bipolar do often go together.  56% of people with bipolar struggle with addiction.  Why so many?  There are three potential explanations:

1. Kindling:  Both substance abuse and bipolar tend to get worse over time.  Neurons are sensitized by each experience, and push to repeat the stimulus.  The theory is that an underlying genetic disposition to an overactive sensitization process promotes both.

2. Genetics:  Both conditions have a genetic predisposition.  People with substance abuse are more likely to have family members with bipolar than the general population, and the other way round.  So there may be other gene variants, as well, that predispose for both at the same time.

3. Self-medicating:  While mania is the bipolar feature that gets turned into movies, depression is our much more common experience.  And there are scant options to treat it.  Mood stabilizers work better to control the manic side of the picture.  Lamotrigine has some antidepressant effect, and lithium reduces the risk of suicide.  But for the most part, the go-to treatment for bipolar depression is not to get it, to avoid mania, since depression follows mania.  But as time goes by, depression comes on its own with no identifiable trigger.  The brain just gets used to it and keeps going back.  People with bipolar spend a whole lot of time feeling like gum on the bottom of a shoe.  Self-medicating is a way of getting relief.  Not a good way long-term -- it generally makes the problem worse.  But desperate people take desperate measures.

So a recurrence of one condition is linked with a recurrence of the other.  Substance abuse can trigger an episode.  During an episode, one is tempted to self-medicate.

The follow-up stories suggest the third.  She has been depressed, anxious, pushing people away.

If your story, or that of someone you love, includes both conditions, know that both have to be treated.  You can't get better from one without treating the other.

That's what I wish I were hearing in the coverage of this tragedy.  There is more to this than addiction.  You have to treat both.

Bipolar is a remitting, recurring condition, a bitch to live with, and carries a suicide rate of 15%, which is why I wondered when I heard the story.

So what has Demi Lovato done with the cards she has been dealt? -- The best she could.

If I'm going to be a singer, I have to use my voice for more than singing.

And she has.  She has used her celebrity to get access to Capital Hill to advocate for a greater priority on mental health.  She has participated in awareness campaigns.  She has been open with her fans and offered counseling at her concerts.

Well, that's what she has done for us.  She has also done the whole treatment, therapy, medication thing.  I refer back to that Bipolar is a remitting, recurring condition, a bitch to live with... line.  Doing the best you can do does not always prevent recurrence.  That goes for both bipolar and substance abuse.

She'll be back.  She'll tell her own story.

Meanwhile, we thank Demi for the work she is doing on all our behalf.  We are praying and rooting for her recovery. 

Demi Lovato performing All Night Long, photo by Dominique Dinh, 
cropped, used under Creative Commons license
Anastasia Bakss as Wonder Woman by Wonder Woman Bodypaint, 
used under Creative Commons license


Popular Posts

Loony Saints - Margaret of Cortona Edition

Every once in a while, Prozac Monologues reaches into my Roman Catholic childhood's fascination with saints, especially the ones who today might be assigned a diagnostic code in the DSM.  Twice, Lent Madness has introduced me to new ones that I share with you.

A few years ago it was Christina the Astonishing.

Today it's Margaret of Cortona.  If you're a Lent Madness regular, you'd expect Margaret to be a shoe in for the first round of voting, where her competition is a stuffy old bishop/theologian, because Margaret became a Franciscan and, more significantly, her story features a dog.  Lent Madness voters are suckers for dogs.

Giving Thanks for John McManamy

John McManamy was my introduction to the concept of expert patient, a mental illness educator with lived experience and serious chops, research-wise.

Our relationship began not long after Prozac Monologues, the blog began in 2009, with a skunk. How on earth did I find his tale of too-close-but-thankfully-not-the-worst-sort-of-too-close encounter with a skunk? Probably I googled amygdala. That tells who John is right there. You want to know about amygdala? John will tell you a story about a skunk.

So I began to follow his blog, Knowledge is NecessityOne bite at a time, he added to my growing knowledge of everything from God to neurons, especially the neurons. We developed first a conversation, back and forth in the comment sections of our respective blogs, and then a friendship.

When he included me as the New Kid on the Block in his post of August 2009, My Favorite Mental Health BlogsProzac Monologues took off. Thanks, John. You gave me the encouragement to persevere, a model to l…

The Brain Science of Caffeine

It's Pumpkin Spice Latte Season -- what better time to pour a cup of Caffeine: Neurological and Psychiatric Implications? It's the next up in my Appreciation Month.

Sergi Ferré, MD, PhD offers this continuing education course for doctors and other health care providers. The goal of this activity is to provide an understanding of the mechanisms involved in the innervating effects of caffeine and the impact that caffeine may have on psychiatric disorders.

So settle in to learn about your favorite beverage.

Disclaimer: Though I have read the thing many times and looked up many big words, I cannot honestly say that I have satisfied all of the learning goals. Specifically, I cannot:
Explain the adenosine-dependent modulation of striatal dopamine and glutamate neurotransmissionnor
Describe the adenosine-dependent modulation of glutamate neurotransmission in the amygdala.Good thing I don't need the grade.

Nevertheless, I gleaned a few fun facts which I will share w…