Bipolar Disorder and Addiction Co-Occurring: Getting the Help You Need

There are a lot of people who have addictions that also suffer from some other type of mental health disorder at the same time. One of the more common mental health conditions that often presents along with addiction is called bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder was called manic depression at one time, and it’s characterized by intense mood swings. Studies have shown that as many as 60% of those who have bipolar disorder also have a history of addiction. In fact, people who have bipolar disorder are actually much more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. As a result, the symptoms of their mental health conditions are usually much worse than someone with bipolar disorder who does not abuse substances. It is also possible for people who do not have a history of mental health problems to develop bipolar disorder as a result of their addictions.

Bipolar Disorder Information

Bipolar disorder was called manic depression at one time, and it’s characterized by intense mood swings.

Perhaps you’re suffering with bipolar disorder too, or you have symptoms that have led you to believe that you may have bipolar disorder, but you’re just not sure what you can do to get help. If you also have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it’s important to keep in mind that going to a traditional drug or alcohol rehab probably isn’t the answer you’re looking for. Even though there has been a shift in recent years to treat addictions and mental health conditions together, not all facilities are currently operating this way. Getting treatment for a dual diagnosis is the best way for you to recover from your addiction and get the appropriate type of help that you need for bipolar disorder at the same time.

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What is Bipolar Disorder?

People who have bipolar disorder often experience dramatic shifts in their moods. These are usually referred to as episodes, and they can happen several times throughout the week, or they can happen only a few times a year. It’s also typical for bipolar disorder to lead to energy changes and difficulty with concentration.

Experts understand that bipolar disorder is caused because of the imbalance of chemicals in the brain, and they believe that genetics can also play a distinct role in it, as well. People with bipolar disorder will generally present with one of four different episodes:

Manic episodes – Manic episodes are characterized by expressions of intense hostility of even cheerfulness. They usually last around a week, and often require that the individual be hospitalized for treatment. 

Major depressive episodes – Major depressive episodes last at least two weeks, and they are characterized by severe depression that results in the individual being uninterested in any activity that he or she usually enjoys. 

Hypomanic episodes – Hypomanic episodes are similar to manic episodes, but the duration of them is much shorter. They only last up to four days, and they’re not quite as severe. 

Mixed episodes – Mixed episodes are when any of the above present in a short period of time. They can include traits from any of the above episodes as well. 

While there are different types of bipolar disorders, the mood shifts that occur in both of them lead to very high “high” periods and very low “low” periods. About 2.6% of Americans who are over the age of 18 suffer from bipolar disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

How is Bipolar Disorder Caused?

There could be many different causes for bipolar disorder, and researchers agree that there isn’t one single reason behind it. Instead, there are a multitude of different factors that can contribute to someone being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and these might include:

  • The structure and function of the brain – Studies have shown that people with bipolar disorder have different brain structures than those who don’t.
  • Genetics – People who have certain genes might be more susceptible to being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, according to various studies. However, this research is also interesting because there have been cases of identical twins that were studied in which one twin was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and the other was not.
  • Family history – Mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder do tend to run in families, and if someone has a parent or sibling who has it, that individual is much more likely to be diagnosed with it as well.
  • Substance abuse – It cannot be denied that alcohol or drug abuse can lead to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder because of the way that these chemicals interact with the brain.
  • The environment – The environment one lives in, or grows up in, can also play a major role in indicating whether or not that individual will be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Although, it’s important to note that this is much more likely to happen for those who have a genetic predisposition to it.

What are the Effects of Bipolar Disorder on the Body and Mind?

When someone suffers from bipolar disorder, the effects it can have are quite profound. People often tend to think of mental illnesses as having a distinct effect on the mind, but they can also lead to physical ailments and illnesses as well. Whether a person is experiencing a manic or a depressive episode, many different changes can take place. Mentally, this can result in:

  • Experiencing long periods of hopelessness or helplessness
  • A very low self-esteem
  • A significant decrease in energy
  • Problems with concentration
  • Problems with making easy decisions
  • Significant changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Feelings of agitation or feeling so being slowed down 

Physically, people can experience: 

  • A diagnosis of thyroid disease
  • Consistent and frequent migraines
  • Chronic bouts of pain
  • A diagnosis of obesity
  • A high risk of heart disease
  • A diagnosis of diabetes 

People who have bipolar disorder are also at a very high risk of suicidal thoughts or behaviors. They often have anxiety disorders that occur simultaneously, and are at a very high risk for addiction.

What are Some Common Signs or Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

According to Healthline, there are more than 5 million people in the United States that have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Of course, this does not indicate how many people currently have bipolar disorder, but who have not been diagnosed with it. 

Maybe that’s how you feel. You may be wondering if you have bipolar disorder, but because of the shame you feel, you’ve never talked with anyone about it to get a diagnosis. Here are some symptoms and signs you can look for to help you understand whether or not bipolar disorder would fit your mental health condition:

  • You have times when you feel overly happy, and these times stretch out for long periods.
  • You feel as though you’re easily agitated.
  • You often talk fast, and you feel like your thoughts are racing.
  • You feel very restless or impulsive at times.
  • You’ve engaged with risky behavior, such as doing drugs or having impulsive sex.
  • You often feel sad for long periods of time.
  • You sometimes feel like withdrawing from friends and family
  • You have times when you lack energy and feel fatigued
  • You’ve thought about committing suicide 

If you can relate to more than one of these, you may have an undiagnosed case of bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder are also very susceptible to becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol.

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How are Bipolar Disorder and Addiction Frequently Combined?

Interestingly enough, the symptoms of some of the various types of episodes of bipolar disorder are quite similar to what someone who has an addiction might experience. For example, someone who is having a manic episode is very similar to someone who is high on cocaine. Still, that doesn’t quite explain why bipolar disorder and addiction are often combined with each other.

They may feel depressed, anxious or confused, or they might be having physical pain in their bodies, or be unable to sleep at night.

One explanation for the link between bipolar disorder and addiction is that people who have bipolar disorder are often unable to deal with the pain that their episodes produce. They may feel depressed, anxious or confused, or they might be having physical pain in their bodies, or be unable to sleep at night. Drugs and alcohol provide them with a way to self-medicate that can relieve some of that pain, at least temporarily.

It is also possible that brain chemistry might have something to do with why bipolar disorder and addiction are often linked with each other. People who have bipolar disorder usually have abnormal levels of serotonin and dopamine in their brains. As a way to cope with these abnormal levels, these individuals might turn to drugs and alcohol. However, substances don’t help; in fact, they only make symptoms much worse. Usually by the time this is discovered, the addiction has already formed.

How Can Dual Diagnosis Treatment Help with Addiction and Bipolar Disorder?

Research has shown, time and time again that dual diagnosis treatment is the best way to treat someone who has both bipolar disorder and an addiction. This is also known as treating co-occurring disorders. It was not always the norm to treat these conditions at the same time. Actually, there are many facilities that still insist on treating addiction before addressing any type of mental health condition that may be causing it; bipolar disorder included. 

Even though it is possible for addictions to cause bipolar disorder diagnoses, more often that not, people who have this condition will turn to substances as a way to cope. Therefore, it’s important to provide treatment for both conditions at the same time, and this is done in dual diagnosis treatment. 

Patients are able to work closely with a therapist to get a proper diagnosis, and then treat the underlying cause of the addiction. They will also work in group settings as a way to receive peer counseling, which has been shown to be vital in dual diagnosis treatment. 

Above all, patients always receive a treatment plan that was designed specifically for them, based on their symptoms, their diagnoses and their needs.

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NorthPoint Recovery Offers Help for Bipolar Disorder and Addiction

If you’re currently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and you struggle with an addiction, it’s possible that you feel all alone. You may be too embarrassed to share your bipolar disorder diagnosis with anyone close to you, or it’s possible that while you’ve suspected that you might have bipolar disorder, you’ve never actually received a formal diagnosis. Many people keep their mental health conditions a secret from the people they love the most. Regardless of what your situation is, please know that help is available for you, and you don’t have to continue to suffer in silence.

Here at NorthPoint Recovery, our goal is to provide all of our patients with the right kind of help that they need for their co-occurring disorders. We understand that each patient requires his or her own treatment plan because you’re an individual with individual needs that should be addressed.

If you would like the opportunity to learn more about how NorthPoint Recovery can provide you with dual diagnosis treatment for bipolar disorder and addiction, we’d love to talk with you about your options and our recommendations. Please contact us today.



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