Borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder are common conditions affecting a large swath of the United States population. While treatment manages the disorders, many people opt for self-medicating and use drugs or alcohol to relieve their symptoms. While this might work in the short term, it’s a recipe for disaster and can lead to more trouble down the road.

While both conditions have similar symptoms, there are some differences, and knowing the difference between personality disorders and mood disorders can help you determine whether you have one. Below, we’ll explain the difference between the two conditions and everything you need to know.

Personality Disorder Statistics

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), personality disorders represent an “enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of someone’s culture.” Personality disorders are extremely challenging to live with, especially if you’re not treating them. The prevalence of any personality disorder in the U.S. hovers around 9.1 percent. Only 1.6 percent of the general population is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and an estimated 20 percent of the inpatient psychiatric population. The figures show that race and gender are not associated with the prevalence of these conditions.

The data also found that 84.5 percent of those diagnosed with personality disorders also had another mental illness. These include any anxiety disorder, mood disorder, impulse control disorder, or substance use disorder (SUD). Borderline personality disorder has a profound effect on those suffering and those around them.

Mood Disorder Statistics

NIMH found that 9.7 percent of the U.S. adult population had any mood disorder in the past year. Past-year prevalence of mood disorders was higher in females at 11.6 percent than in males at 7.7 percent. The same figures show that 21.4 percent of adults will experience any mood disorder at some point in their lives. Of adults with mood disorders, the degree of impairment ranges from mild to severe – 45 percent had a serious impairment, 40 percent with moderate impairment, and 15 percent with mild impairment.

According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million adults, equating to 2.6 percent of the U.S. adult population. Bipolar disorder is another condition that can be quite severe, especially without treatment. The median onset is around age 25. However, it can start as early as childhood or as late as one’s 40s or 50s. An equal number of men and women develop the disorder.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder vs. BPD

Bipolar disorder (BD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD) are mental illnesses associated with mood swings. Borderline personalityborderline-personality-disorder disorder is a personality disorder, whereas bipolar disorder is a mood disorder. Both conditions can profoundly affect someone’s life. While the conditions share symptoms, which often lead to a misdiagnosis, differences can help steer a proper diagnosis.

While they share similar traits, there are many differences when it comes to symptoms, patterns, triggers, and duration. Some symptoms are more common with one than the other. One example is that borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder consist of impulsive behavior and emotional turbulence. At the same time, those with BPD have unstable personal relationships, which is less common in bipolar disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder

The most common symptoms associated with borderline personality disorder include:

  • Emotional changes, which are often dramatic and persist for a few days
  • Impulsive and unsafe behavior
  • Uncontrolled aggression and inappropriate anger
  • Low self-worth and feelings of emptiness
  • Chronic depression
  • Thoughts of self-harm or self-injury
  • Fear of being abandoned
  • Distorted perception of oneself
  • Constantly a part of unstable relationships but don’t have close friends
  • Episodes that can be linked to stress
  • Short cycles of mood stability

Those with borderline personality disorder often show signs of uncontrolled aggression, which can be serious, especially due to a lack of impulse. It can make the individual more likely to engage in addictive behaviors, such as drug or alcohol use and gambling. These symptoms are often triggered by a conflict with someone or an institution. Traumatic or stressful events can also trigger these symptoms.

Another feature of the condition is known as splitting, which refers to two things getting split in half. It’s when an individual cannot hold emotionally opposing viewpoints. It’s a coping mechanism to manage their fear of abandonment, resulting in impulsive behavior and relationship problems.

Bipolar Disorder

The most common symptoms associated with bipolar disorder include:

  • Fluctuations in energy levels, weight, and sleep needs
  • Depressed mood, especially during a down episode
  • Racing thoughts, impulsivity, impaired judgment, and excessive talking
  • Threatening or combative
  • Dramatic mood changes – extreme highs and lows that can last for months
  • Elevated self-esteem and mood during a manic period
  • Slow speech, memory issues, and impaired cognition
  • Suicidal thoughts when depressed

Manic episodes are not beneficial, even though it’s the alternative to depressive episodes. Someone battling mania can be reckless and lack the necessary self-awareness to acknowledge how their impulses affect themselves and others around them.

Those with bipolar I disorder have cycles that shift from depressive to manic. Manic symptoms and depression are called mixed features. Between cycles, individuals with the condition can have a period of symptom-free living that lasts for years. However, those with borderline personality disorder have consistent symptoms that affect their daily routine.

Causes of Borderline Personality Disorder

Unfortunately, experts have yet to uncover the precise cause of borderline personality disorder. However, they believe environmental factors, especially in early childhood, influence it. Someone with a history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse is prevalent in those with BPD. Parents that use drugs or alcohol could also be a cause. Stress and trauma as a child can lead to an inability to cope and contribute to the development of BPD as you get older.

Brain structure, chemical imbalances, and genetics can also play a vital role in BPD. Those with a family history of the condition are at a higher risk of getting it themselves. Experts have found that someone with the disorder has an altered brain neurotransmitter function. Someone with BPD also has structural and functional brain changes, especially in the areas responsible for controlling impulses and emotional regulation.

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

The causes of bipolar disorder are a bit more complex. There isn’t a single cause, as various factors contribute to the condition. For example, those with a direct relative who also has bipolar disorder are more likely to get it. Someone with specific genetics is also more likely to develop the condition. It’s believed that chemical imbalances play a vital role in the condition. An imbalance in one or more neurotransmitters could result in symptoms.

Diagnosing Mood Disorders and Personality Disorders

For a bipolar disorder diagnosis to take place, the individual must experience a manic episode preceded or followed by a depressive episode. For bipolar II disorder, hypomania and depressive episodes must have been present. Some subtle differences between bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder include the following:

  • Duration: Manic or depressive episodes can go on for weeks or months, whereas BPD has shorter episodes of mood instability.
  • Family history: Mood disorders are more likely to be passed down through the family than BPD.
  • Sleep: Sleep changes are an early sign of bipolar disorder, which can keep someone awake for days during an episode. Sleep patterns are more consistent with BPD.
  • Relationships: A person with bipolar disorder has more distinct challenges with simple interactions among peers, meaning they have a lack of close or trusted friends. Most relationships they have are rocky.
  • Self-harm: Self-harm and other destructive behaviors are more common in those with borderline personality disorder.

It’s not uncommon for bipolar and borderline personality disorder to occur simultaneously. An estimated 10 percent to 20 percent of those with bipolar disorder also have borderline personality disorder.

Treatment is the only option. With these conditions, a combination of medication and psychotherapy is necessary. One won’t work without the other. Some therapies include dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and mentalization-based therapy (MBT). However, you must speak to a professional to determine which route is best for you.

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