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An illustrated woman inside a bottle to symbolize alcoholism and depression.

'Blacking out became my new normal'

Alcohol was blowing up Jocelyn O’Neil’s psoriasis and her life. Then her boyfriend gave her an ultimatum.

It wasn’t until I was sitting in the infusion room reclining chair that it hit me: This was going to really hurt. I remember my psoriasis was burning and my veins were flat from my hangover.

Between 2012 and 2014, my biologic infusions were usually done while I was hungover. Anyone who has had an IV or had blood drawn while hungover knows that dehydration flattens veins, making it harder to find a good one.

Drinking made my infusions more painful, my psoriasis symptoms worse and my flare-ups more frequent. Yet I wouldn’t stop drinking. My drinking was more important than self-care. Frankly, because I didn’t care.

I’ve had severe psoriasis since I was 4 years old. Anyone who has the disease knows the psychosocial burdens that come along with it: isolation, anxiety, depression, embarrassment, shame. The fact that a flare-up could happen at any time caused a paranoia that I was desperate to numb.

I started drinking at 14. I used alcohol like you would use the reset button on a video game. Hit the button, no matter where you are in the game, and boom. Blackness. Clean slate. Anxiety wiped. I drank to numb my anxiety or lift the depression for even a little while.

But when I woke up the next day my skin burned, my anxiety was heightened and my sadness kicked in. I needed to feel better, so I would start the drinking cycle all over again.

Most studies conclude that people who have psoriasis drink more. The severity of the disease correlates with the amount of alcohol consumed. At age 20, my body was 90 percent covered. After years of using only topicals, I began taking a systemic. I was told that I could not drink alcohol at all as it carried some serious side effects.

Despite my doctor’s warnings, I couldn’t stop drinking. While on the medication, alcohol seemed to hit me a lot harder and faster. Blacking out became my new normal. I lasted six months on the systemic. After that I maintained some semblance of skin clarity from biologic samples my doctor would ship me when I moved to California from Rhode Island. I couldn’t afford to see a dermatologist and it would be years before I even met a rheumatologist.

My drinking developed into alcohol-use disorder. I would use alcohol to numb out and then use alcohol again to numb the hangover. It became a vicious cycle, just like the psoriasis cycle.

Then around 2012 my drinking became dangerous. It was affecting my family and friends because of the person I became when I drank. I was incoherent. My actions and thoughts were dangerous and disoriented. It was the cliché Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The Ultimatum

I quit drinking on Sept. 10, 2014, the morning after a two-day binge. My boyfriend (now husband) was fed up with my behavior and had given me one last chance. I knew I wouldn’t get another.

That day I finally asked for help. I called my doctor’s office complaining of flu-like symptoms. What I really had was the booze flu. Once the examination door closed, my eyes filled with tears and the real reason came out.

“I’m here because I can’t stop drinking and it’s ruining my life,” I told the nurse practitioner.

She gave me a referral to a center that focused on both addiction and mental health. There, my new psychiatrist put me on a different antidepressant and suggested I try a drug that could help curb my drinking cravings.

That drug changed my life. I don’t even think about alcohol anymore.

After I quit drinking, my skin lesions did not come back as quickly. I began to stretch the time between biologic infusions by months. I had been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2014, and I realized that some of my PsA symptoms were either amplified or were due to my alcohol use. Injuries to my body had been drastically reduced, making it less likely to have an outbreak.

I’m 33 now and have been sober for more than four years. I feel more stable, mentally and physically, than I have in my entire life. I recently went off my current biologic in an attempt to start a family. Pregnancy is another unknown journey my psoriasis and I are about to go on. I can’t wait for the day when there is a cure for psoriasis and PsA, and my life can be even better.

Although psoriasis and PsA are still mysteries, what is certain is that booze never made me feel better or heal. I’m better without it.

Illustration by Pat Fennessy

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