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.