The Bipolar Addict: Drinks, Drugs, Delirium, & Why Sober Is the New Cool by Conor Bezane shares the author’s experiences, as well as the experiences of others, living with bipolar disorder and co-occurring addictions. I went into his book with high expectations, because concurrent disorders need to be included more often into the conversation about mental health.
There were a few things in the book that concerned me as they seemed to feed into stereotypes. While some readers may see this as lightheartedness, I’m not seeing enough benefit to outweigh the potential negative. The author used the term Eccentrics “to refer to the creative and idiosyncratic individuals who have been dually diagnosed.” Later on in the book the author writes that his dad was diagnosed with bipolar II, and he explains that since his dad had always been a quirky, absent-minded professor type, the diagnosis explained a lot. Is this really useful, never mind accurate? There’s also mention of a substance abusing friend, and the author explains that “since he is bipolar II, he was constantly hypomanic”. If the friend was constantly hypomanic that’s fine, but it’s not accurate as a characterization of bipolar II in general.
The author is very upfront about his substance use and how good it felt, at least at first. He wrote about smoking crack for the first time with a dealer in an alleyway, and how it felt like a “soft-core lullaby” that was “damn near blissful”. While the substance use wasn’t glorified, the clear, specific descriptions could potentially be triggering for readers who aren’t feeling very stable in their recovery. I think the biggest issue was that stories of the past were told in the present tense, in active addiction voice.
I found that some of the stories the author included from his past weren’t woven cohesively together into the overarching narrative, leaving me with the sense that some of them weren’t particularly purposeful. The telling of the past in the present tense meant that there wasn’t always a great deal of insight infused into the various encounters included in the book.
The author explains how he was first diagnosed with bipolar and his early treatment journey. I couldn’t help but cringe at his psychiatrist’s treatment plan, which flies in the face of evidence-based treatment guidelines for bipolar disorder.
Finally the author’s family staged an intervention. This led to him going to rehab, and he was able to get clean and sober and get his life back on track.
Part II of the book was devoted to “The eccentrics”, and included the stories of other people with concurrent disorders who had achieved sobriety. These were told in the third person, with quotes liberally used, but somehow the style of writing created a sense of distance, and I didn’t feel like I was really able to know these individuals. As in the first section of the book, specific details about drug/alcohol use were included that didn’t seem like they served much of a purpose in the narrative. It was not that these stories necessarily lacked in intimate content, but the sense of distance decreased the effectiveness of the narratives.
The following disturbed me: “There is indeed an element of comfort in being depressed. Everyone in your inner circle knows it, so they dote on you, coddle you. Loved ones just want your pain to go away, and their company is more helpful than any therapy, any medication.” This is very far removed from most people’s experience with depression, including my own, and while it would be one thing if the author was stating in the first person as his own experience, using “you” to tell it to the readers seemed rather inappropriate.
The second to last chapter is written by psychiatrist Dr. Kenneth Minkoff about recovery from co-occurring disorders. I thought the placement of this in the book seemed like a bit of an odd choice. The book concludes with an in memoriam chapter to a substance using friend who lost his battle with addiction.
At one point the author writes, “I have become a little bit internet famous through my online presence.” The mild cringe this induced for me matched pretty well with the mild cringe I had regularly throughout the book. My impression when I finished reading was that this book needed a much more involved editor to tighten it up. It was only as I was writing this review that I thought to look up the publisher, and it’s a full-service self-publishing company. That makes sense, as they would be unlikely to provide the really hands on editing this book needs to truly make it effective.
I started this book hoping for great things, but unfortunately for the most part I didn’t really find them, although some of the basic pieces are there. That’s disappointing, because the voices of those living with concurrents disorders definitely deserve to be heard.
The Bipolar Addict is available on Amazon.
I received a reviewer copy of this book from NetGalley.
You can find my other book reviews here.
Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis aims to cut through the misunderstanding and stigma, drawing on the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria and guest narratives to present mental illness as it really is. It’s available on Amazon.
For other books by Ashley L. Peterson, visit the Mental Health @ Home Books page.
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