Many myths surround bipolar disorder including that it is a rare condition. That, unfortunately, is one of those myths. While the prevalence of it in our society is lesser than other mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, bipolar still affects about 5.7 million American adults, or 2.6 percent of the U.S. population age 18 years or older.
The estimates for children and teens vary widely, partly because there is a debate on the criteria for diagnosis. Children going through puberty and mood swings associated with hormone fluctuations tend to show symptoms that could resemble bipolar disorder.
There are estimates, however, that suggest three quarters of a million American children and teens may have bipolar disorder. An accurate diagnosis can be life-changing as it requires treatment with medicines like Lamictal for a lifetime. The symptoms of bipolar are much different than is portrayed in television are movies.
The mood swings associated with the disorder is much different from people who do not have bipolar. The mood swings associated with the disorder are much more severe, longer-lasting, and interfere with daily routines and functions. It can disrupt working, managing a home, or being a successful student. Personality changes can occur on a dime changing from sad to euphoric, and the average bipolar individual will be more depressed more often than manic.
Some who struggle with the disorder will shift back and forth more frequently than others, but it’s more typical to have an abnormal mood state seen as high or low. Those who become manic will go on spending sprees, use poor judgment, abuse drugs or alcohol, and have a problem concentrating.
A story on the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) discusses a story where an individual in college speaks about the first time their bipolar symptoms flared up. They were at a bar with friends and without drinking too much alcohol, they blacked out and the day became a blur.
“The rest of what happened was a blur, and my roommate said I looked like I had consumed 30 beers.”
Once they got home, they described not being able to sit still, and the anxiety multiplied. The individual’s mother and boyfriend thought the beer could have been tampered with and immediately rushed the person to the emergency room. During the wait, the statements the individual was yelling in the waiting room led to the person being admitted into a psych ward.
These stories are all too familiar for those who have bipolar and to overcome some of these manic symptoms and to lose touch with reality; they require medications to keep them symptom-free. The drugs are known as mood stabilizers, and one such drug is Lamictal. While Lamictal can be a useful means of treating bipolar disorder, it does contain properties that make it dangerous and have the potential for abuse. Let’s take a look at what Lamictal is.
What is Lamictal?
Lamictal, also known as Lamotrigine, is used alone or with other medications to prevent and control seizures, or treat the extreme mood swings that people with bipolar disorder struggle with. Lamictal is known as an anticonvulsant or antiepileptic drug, and it is thought to work by restoring the balance of natural substances in the brain. It is not approved for use in children younger than age 2 due to the increased risk of side effects such as infection.
While the drug is FDA-approved and slows down hyperactive electrical impulses and nerve firings in the brain, it has severe side effects. There is a recent story of a woman who began using the drug, and she immediately noticed severe effects; her skin began to burn from the inside out as a result of the medication. Her skin broke out in painful blisters, began to bubble, and then started to fall off her body.
Lamictal has other side effects, which include:
- Double or blurred vision
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
- Stomach problems and nausea
- Insomnia and sleep disturbances, including abnormal dreams
- Inability to concentrate
- Balance and coordination problems
- Joint and back pain
- Itchy skin
- Speech problems
- Stiff neck
- Chest pain
- Disruption of women’s menstrual cycle
When Lamictal is abused, it increases these potential side effects. Recreational use of the drug can also make a person more likely to engage in actions they wouldn’t usually find themselves in.
Due to Lamictal’s classification as a psychotherapeutic medication, it has risks and side effects when used. Prescription drug abuse is a significant public health concern in the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that around 52 million Americans, or 20 percent of the adult population, have taken a prescription medication for nonmedical reasons at least once in their lives. When medications are used without a needed and legitimate purpose, it is considered drug abuse.
Lamictal is often abused in an attempt to self-medicate symptoms consistent with bipolar or other mood altering disorders. It is used as a means to escape reality or cope with stress or induce intoxication. The abuse potential of Lamictal is much less significant than prescription drugs like opioids or benzos, but it may still be abused, which can be dangerous and risky.
Lamictal is typically prescribed in an extended-release formulation, and it is designed to be time-released in the body over a set time. Those who abuse it will crush the pill and bypass the controlled-release, causing the whole dose to be ingested at once. It can be dangerous and lead to an overdose.
Signs of Lamictal Use
When the drug is consumed as prescribed, it can be a highly useful medication for its user. While Lamictal addiction is less common, it still can occur. Addiction is a disease in the brain, and it brings about emotional, social, and behavioral ramifications. Those struggling with addiction may be more likely to engage in more significant risks that carry consequences to their actions. Most of their time is spent trying to figure out how to get more of the drug, taking the medication, and then recovering from the crash that follows.
Those addicted to Lamictal may doctor shop, which means going to more than one doctor to attain the medication. They may also take more Lamictal than they are prescribed, take it more often than they are supposed to, or keep taking it after there is no medical reason necessary. Drug-seeking behavior is a common sign of addiction, and people may steal or buy these medications from friends.
Common signs of addiction include:
- Loss of interest in hobbies or activities that were once priorities
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- A decline in productivity at school or work
- Attempting to abstain from the drug but being unable to do so on your own
- Continued use of the medication despite consequences
- Financial or legal issues relating to drug use
- Inability to control how often and how much of the drug is taken
- Drug tolerance
If you or someone you know has been using Lamictal for reasons other than to treat seizures or bipolar disorder, they must get immediate help. Someone who uses the drug could be exposed to life-threatening side effects that we touched on earlier in this piece. It’s vital to consult with a doctor before taking these substances to ensure they are right for you.