Bipolar Disorder and Addiction
Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mental disorder that affects almost 2.8% of the U.S population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Note that this number refers to people with an official diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and the percentage of people suffering is likely to be much higher. Bipolar is characterized by intense, sudden mood swings and shifts in behavior and energy.
Those who have bipolar disorder are at a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder than the general population. According to a study published American Journal of Managed Care, over half of the individuals with bipolar who participated in the study had some experience of substance addiction. The same report states that alcohol is the most commonly abused drug among those struggling with bipolar disorder.
If you have bipolar disorder and are also struggling with substance abuse, you may have a co-occurring disorder. This is also known as a dual diagnosis.
Rehabilitation for Co-occurring Disorders
Rehabilitation for Co-occurring Disorders at Excel Treatment Center
Rehabilitation programs at Excel Treatment Center can be tailored to suit the needs of clients suffering from co-occurring bipolar and substance use disorder. We have expertly trained clinical staff who understand the complexity of co-occurring disorders. Our team offer non-judgmental, compassionate care and support services and provide safe and appropriate treatment for every client.
Understanding Bipolar Disorder and Addiction
The reasons for the high rate of substance abuse among people with bipolar disorder are complicated. One reason is that many people attempt to relieve their symptoms by self-medicating.
Common symptoms of bipolar disorder include anxiety, depression, and sleep issues. These symptoms can be difficult to live with. In an attempt to find relief, many sufferers will use drugs or alcohol. While this may allow for some temporary relief, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, the use of drugs and alcohol in this way can trigger the depression or mania associated with the condition.
Brain chemistry also plays a role in the relationship between bipolar disorder and substance abuse. The brain chemistry of people struggling with bipolar is characterized by abnormal levels of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These brain chemicals are involved in vital functions such as sleep, metabolism, and the body’s stress response. They also influence mood and emotional states.
Misuse of drugs and alcohol impacts the way our brain processes these important chemicals. In addition to the effect bipolar disorder has on the same chemicals, heavy drug use can exacerbate the symptoms of chemical imbalance. This leads to further depression, emotional instability, and manic energy levels.
What Are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
All of us will experience feeling down, angry, sad, or elated at one point or another. These are natural feelings. For those in good mental health, these feelings arise and soon pass. For someone struggling with bipolar disorder, these feelings can be persistent and all-consuming. Four major mood categories characterize bipolar disorder. Each of these mood categories has distinct symptoms.
The categories are:
- Mixed Episodes
Mania refers to the high, elated mood that people with bipolar experience.
Symptoms of mania include:
- High self-esteem
- Delusional thinking and behavior
- Rapid speech
- Irrational behavior
Hypomania is similar to mania, but the symptoms are generally less intense. Hypomanic individuals can function in day-to-day life. Still, their feelings are generally more intense than those of the average person. Hypomania can appear positive, as individuals in this state are usually talkative and friendly.
Hypomania is also characterized by a proneness to take more risks, and one major risk that hypomanic individuals take is the use of substances. Substance use may seem harmless when in a hypomanic state, but the use of substances can evoke other emotional states and cause a drastic shift in mood for the user.
When people with bipolar enter the low end of their mood spectrum, they experience depression, intense sadness, and feelings of hopelessness and despair. Research in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reports that bipolar depression can persist for weeks at a time. During this phase, the risk of substance abuse is high. Individuals may use substances in excess to mask or escape their depression; however, this only increases the likelihood of addiction.
Bipolar depression includes symptoms such as:
- Hopelessness and despair
- Suicidal thoughts
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- Appetite changes
Sufferers of bipolar won’t always display or experience clear, defined symptoms. Sometimes, a person can experience mania symptoms and the symptoms of depression in a short space of time. For example, a person might experience despair and have suicidal thoughts while also experiencing increased energy and a reduced need for sleep.
A person might seek substances to cope with these mood imbalances, but they will only provide temporary relief if any at all. According to SAMHSA, ‘in some cases, the combination of bipolar disorder and a SUD may deepen bipolar disorder’s manic and depressive symptoms.’
When bipolar disorder co-occurs with addiction, to fully heal and recover, professional help must be sought.