My Crohnic Life

– LIFE WITH AN INVISIBLE DISEASE – 

Navigating Alcohol, College & Chronic Illness

THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE. THIS IS PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. PLEASE DISCUSS ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION WITH YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE DRINKING.

Though I started drinking in high school, the conversation regarding alcohol didn’t come up with my doctors until I was 18 and getting ready to leave for college. Looking back, I so badly wish I had more guidance.

I wish someone had been able to warn me about the consequences of drinking alcohol with chronic illness. I had to learn the hard way. I’m hoping this can be a little guide to make the learning process easier for you.

It’s no secret that you should avoid alcohol when you’re sick. If you’re under the weather with a stomach bug, doctors recommend water & electrolytes, not vodka (I hope).

But things become so much more complex with chronic illness. When you’re sick 24/7 you have to figure out how to have a social life; as you get older, social gatherings often include drinking. So what do you do?

Right before packing up & heading off to school, I saw my rheumatologist for the first time. My Crohn’s seemed under control, but my joints were struggling really badly. My disease was being managed with Humira at the time, and blood work showed I had built up antibodies to the drug. Because of this, and my joint pain, my rheumatologist switched my treatment to Remicade infusions (an immunosuppressant); I would also take a weekly dose of Methotrexate (another immunosuppressant).

At the end off the appointment, he sat me down, looked me in the eyes and said something along the lines of:

I know you’re going to college. I know you’re probably going to drink alcohol. It’s okay to drink in moderation, but you need to be mindful of how tough the medication already is on your liver. Be careful and we will monitor things through blood work.

I heard this and thought, “Let’s get shitty drunk ALL of the time!!!”

He was trying to give me an inch, and I took about 7,000 miles. How I long for that inch now.

I was drinking, at the minimum, 2-3 days a week. I wasn’t sleeping enough. I wasn’t taking my medications diligently. Big red flag.

Many medication labels often read: “Do not drink alcohol with this drug”.

Do you know why?

The human body struggles to metabolize alcohol & medication simultaneously…. it really can’t. It can only choose one at a time.

So, personally, it would take longer for me to feel the effects of the alcohol, which usually led me to over drinking. When the alcohol would hit, it would hit hard.

I would ALWAYS wake up drunk. Sometimes, the effects would last well into the next day. I would do homework drunk. I’d go to class still drunk.

I would vomit every time I drank. I would vomit the next day, sometimes it just happened, and sometimes it was forced.

And then the dreaded hangover would hit. The hangovers were brutal.

When you’re chronically ill, your symptoms can often mimic a hangover. So to add binge drinking to the situation was extremely detrimental to my physical health & quality of life.

I made it through fall semester of my freshman year before having to take medical leave. Was I shocked? No. My naïvety and lack of thoughtfulness had finally caught up to me.

But STILL… this wasn’t enough to get me to stop drinking.

I didn’t stop until last fall, in 2019, when it started really affecting my mental health and those close to me. I would drink, lash out & have horrendous anxiety/panic attacks.

I took a step back and examined my behavior. Lashing out is so NOT ME. I really hated seeing these toxic patterns emerge. I wasn’t fun. I was miserable.

I started leaning more and more into cannabis (both socially and medicinally). Last fall, my physical health was on the quick decline due to mold illness I didn’t know about (I was living in a house with black mold). Weed became my lifeline. In December, I wound up in the ER for an EKG & fluids because I had a single cider with dinner and woke up the next morning with a heart rate of 200 BPM. I felt like I was dying.

I’ve hardly had any alcohol since.

I hope you read this and choose to make different decisions. I hope you realize you can have the college experience without wreaking absolute havoc on your body.

You cannot keep up with your healthy friends. I wish someone had flat out told me this.

Whether you choose to be the party stoner, the designated driver or you simply say NO to partying, please know it’s okay. It’s okay to not get shitty drunk every weekend. It’s okay to protect your health… I HIGHLY ENCOURAGE IT, in fact. But protecting your health can look different for different people. Don’t judge anyone else’s journey.

Listen to your body, and actually honor what it says. Only you know how you feel.

 

Ashley x