A Bipolar Life Without Medication – a Possibility?

A Bipolar Life Without Medication – a Possibility?

As people who read this bipolar blog know, I’m on medication, lots of it, actually. Nevertheless, many people (philosophically, even me) wish to be medication-free. I’m the first one to say this usually isn’t possible; however, today I’m talking with CEO and Medical Director Dr. Kim Dennis from Timberline Knolls (a sponsor) about bipolar disorder without medication.

Refusing to Take Bipolar Medication

First off, it’s important to know that refusing to take bipolar medication and possibly, someday, being off bipolar medication isn’t the same thing. People almost always need medication to get stabilized before getting off meds is even an option. For people with bipolar who simply refuse to take their meds Dr. Dennis says,

Motivational interviewing is sometimes useful when someone is too afraid to take a medication. We start with how well or not their life is working out without medication? What has their illness untreated cost them? Do they believe they can have a different life in recovery? Do they have fears about giving up certain aspects of the illness (like mania/hypomania)? Do they have fears about medication, intended effects and side effects?

It is in getting past this that bipolar medication can be used and recovery be achieved. It’s only then that going med-free can even be considered.

What are the Chances a Person with Bipolar Could go Medication-Free?

No Meds with BipolarIn my view, slim for anyone who has a severe case of bipolar disorder, which is most of us. Here are Dr. Dennis’ thoughts,

It depends. How severe is the illness? What type of bipolar disorder (severe bipolar 1 usually needs medication lifelong; mild bipolar 2, not necessarily so.) Is it really bipolar disorder or is it something else misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder (addiction, borderline personality disorder, PTSD, etc.)?

When Would Going Medication-Free be Indicated?

Dr. Dennis feels that going med-free might be indicated,

If a person has only ever had mild symptoms, and they are getting good benefit from non-medication alternatives—therapy, support groups, meditation, yoga, omega 3 fatty acids, etc. Any decision to stop medication needs to be supported by a person’s physician and the process should be slow and highly monitored. The individual needs to see their MD weekly, have family and other support people involved to provide feedback on how the person is doing, etc.)

Personally, even with weekly visits I’d still be worried. A person can do a lot of damage to a life in a week. (But, of course, hopefully other supports would step in and get the person help if that started to happen.)

Going Bipolar Medication Free

So maybe I’m a little conservative when I think about going off of meds – but that’s me. I know what would happen if I did it and I just feel protective of others to ensure that the same thing wouldn’t happen to them. But as you can see, above, a professional thinks it could be done in a limited number of cases. So if you happen to fall into that group and want to give it a try, put the right supports and non-medication treatments in place and talk to your doctor (never do it on your own).


About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

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