Drug and alcohol use is common in those who have bipolar disorder. Between 30 and 50 percent of people with bipolar I or II also struggle with addiction at some point in their lives.

Each disorder can exacerbate the symptoms and side effects of the other, and this can complicate treatment.

Addiction and bipolar disorder are common co-occurring disorders that need to be managed simultaneously in an integrated fashion. A comprehensive drug rehab center that is experienced in managing both disorders is needed.

Bipolar Disorder

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that around 4.5 percent of American adults will struggle with bipolar disorder at some point in their lives.

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness. Behaviors and intense emotions can swing from manic (extremely energetic and “high”) to depressive (very sad, fatigued, and “low”).

Bipolar disorder often predates substance abuse, but the Mayo Clinic warns that drug and alcohol use can trigger the initial bipolar episode and act as a risk factor for its onset.

The Connection to Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings, changes in activity and energy levels, and an inability to perform daily tasks, all of which can also be side effects of addiction, drug dependence, and withdrawal.

Addiction and bipolar disorder can be complexly intertwined. Each disorder can amplify the negative consequences, symptoms, and side effects of the other.

Individuals struggling with bipolar disorder commonly misuse drugs and alcohol, with alcohol being the most common substance of abuse.

Many factors are involved in why bipolar and drug abuse and addiction co-occur so regularly.

  • Drugs and alcohol can be a method of coping with bipolar symptoms.
  • High levels of stress and childhood trauma can increase the risk for both bipolar disorder and drug abuse.
  • Overlapping genetic factors may be related to both drug misuse and the onset of bipolar disorder.
  • The regions of the brain involved in the initiation of drug misuse and the onset of bipolar disorder may be affected.

Which Comes First?

While drinking excessively and drug misuse can trigger a bipolar episode, drug abuse is not considered to be a causal factor in the onset of bipolar disorder. The reverse can be true, however.

Someone with bipolar disorder is at a higher risk to deal with addiction. Drugs and alcohol can seem to provide a quick escape from reality and a muting of difficult symptoms. Substances can elevate depressed moods, calm nerves, increase energy and alertness, and relieve tension.

These feelings do not last. As drugs and alcohol wear off, the comedown can actually increase mood swings. The withdrawal symptoms of many psychoactive substances can amplify the symptoms of bipolar disorder and raise the risk for suicide and more significant complications.

Drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication for bipolar disorder only serve to make things worse and raise the risk for also struggling with addiction.

Shared Vulnerabilities

The parts of the brain that work to control impulses and handle reward processing, as well as feelings of intense emotion, may be involved in both the onset of drug abuse and bipolar disorder. These regions may be underdeveloped or not functioning the way they should in someone at a higher risk for each disorder, for example.

The British Journal of Psychiatry publishes that there is a genetic link between bipolar disorder and co-occurring addiction. Both of these disorders are considered to be heritable, meaning that if a direct family member has bipolar disorder or an addiction, the risk is higher for you to also have it.

The genetic link between co-occurring bipolar disorder and addiction may be related to similar parts of the brain being involved in each of these disorders. Therefore, if you have an addiction or bipolar disorder, the odds are elevated that you may also develop the other disorder in your lifetime as well.

Risk Factors

When someone at risk for bipolar disorder misuses drugs and/or alcohol, the symptoms and side effects will be exacerbated. It may lead to:

  • Onset of bipolar disorder and illness sooner
  • Increased risk for suicidal behaviors
  • Rapid cycling between mania and depression and mixed features (manic and depressive symptoms at the same time)
  • Raised health care costs
  • Higher rates of violence, crime, and homelessness

Finding a Specialized Rehab

Specialized treatments can help to minimize the risks associated with co-occurring bipolar disorder and addiction.

SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator can help you find a specialized rehab that can also address bipolar disorder.

NIMH also provides a list of resources for individuals struggling with bipolar disorder. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) are additional resources that can help you find a specialized rehab to treat both bipolar disorder and addiction.

Specialized Treatment Methods

Bipolar disorder and addiction both benefit from specialized care. When these disorders co-occur, they are ideally managed in an integrated fashion by a team of trained medical, substance abuse, and mental health professionals who can all work in tandem to address all aspects of both disorders simultaneously.

Bipolar disorder and addiction both benefit from pharmacological, therapeutic, and supportive measures during treatment and recovery. NIMH publishes that ongoing treatment for bipolar disorder can manage mood swings and episodes on a long-term basis. Addiction is also a chronic disease that will benefit from ongoing supportive care.

Medications can help to stabilize moods and also manage drug cravings and symptoms of withdrawal. It is important for treatment providers to be aware of any substance misuse when treating bipolar disorder to ensure that the medications used will not lead to further complications.

Therapies can be tailored to manage emotions and mood swings indicative of bipolar disorder and also to minimize relapse, control drug cravings, and deal with potential triggers. Support groups made up of others who are also struggling with both disorders can be especially helpful for gaining tools and tips for recovery.

If you have both bipolar disorder and substance abuse issues, a specialized drug rehab center is optimal. Staff members will be highly trained and have experience managing both disorders.

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