Bipolar Disorder and Addiction

Substance use disorder (SUD) is difficult enough on its own without having to deal with the weight of another mental health issue. However, the sad reality is that SUD is often diagnosed alongside bipolar disorder, making it a dual diagnosis (or a co-occurring condition, meaning that someone can suffer from two mental illnesses at the same time). Dual diagnoses, especially ones with the destructive potential of bipolar disorder and substance abuse, require the utmost in professional treatment for addiction; otherwise, the likelihood of relapse increases. 

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, which is also known as “manic depression,” is a mental health disorder in which someone suffers from severely high and low mood swings. It’s referred to as “bipolar” disorder because of the way in which individuals experience the illness. They experience two opposite “poles” of moods, namely sadness, loneliness, and anger at the lowest, while happiness, excitement, and joy would be toward the highest.

The way bipolar disorder works is that those who suffer from it will experience periods of joy and excitement where they feel very energetic, and then, sometimes sporadically, experience feelings of sadness, loneliness, and fatigue. In addition to this, these individuals are more likely to develop a substance use disorder. 

The “Manic” Phase

Irritability, impulsivity, and reckless decision-making are all symptoms of the “manic” phase of bipolar disorder. In the course of the mania, individuals suffering from bipolar disorder have been known to experience hallucinations. There are, however, milder symptoms of mania. 

These milder symptoms of mania in bipolar disorder are referred to as “hypomania.” Those who suffer from hypomania won’t have symptoms so extreme that they interrupt one’s daily life, like hallucinations.

The other side of manic depression is, of course, depression. When someone experiences a depressive period, it can manifest itself in heightened sadness, lack of motivation, or fatigue (or any other symptoms of major depressive disorder). This is typical in both chronic depression and bipolar disorder. 

When this happens, individuals don’t experience the symptoms of mania or hypomania. Those are considered the highs of bipolar disorder, while depressive episodes are considered to be the lows. Generally speaking, those who experience bipolar disorder do so with more depressive symptoms than manic or hypomanic. 

Perhaps one of the scariest parts of all of this is that these bipolar episodes don’t follow any sort of pattern. Those who wind up suffering from bipolar disorder could quite possibly do so from the same symptoms (be them depressive, manic, hypomanic) before experiencing the other set of symptoms. When it comes to how long this usually lasts, it could be anywhere from weeks to years. 

Manic Symptoms

  • Excessive happiness
  • Excessive excitement
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of concentration 
  • Rapid speech
  • Increased energy
  • Trouble sleeping
  • High sex drive
  • Impulsiveness
  • Drug abuse
  • Alcohol abuse

Depressive Symptoms

  • Increased sadness
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of interest
  • Lack of motivation
  • Hopelessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Sleeping too much
  • Difficulty with making decisions
  • Appetite increase
  • Appetite loss
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Suicidal actions

When is Bipolar Disorder Usually Diagnosed?

Bipolar disorder could be diagnosed as early as adolescence and as late as early adulthood, under the age of 25. In fact, half of those who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder are under the age of 25. Some individuals notice symptoms and become concerned; naturally, they want to seek help for them or confront them about it. The best thing to do in these situations, however, is to consult a healthcare professional.

The reason it’s best to talk with a doctor before confronting an individual with one’s concerns is that the doctor may be able to tell whether or not the disorder is genetic. Evaluations can be done in order to narrow down the issue, or rather, the cause of the issue. When it all boils down to it, the issue could be some other completely different health condition. 

As far as physical health conditions are concerned, things like mood symptoms caused by medication would have to be excluded from the evaluation. In these evaluations, the quantity, severity, and frequency of the symptoms of bipolar disorder will be taken into consideration quite heavily.

How are Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse Connected?

Bipolar disorder and substance abuse are two potentially severe mental illnesses. As previously mentioned, those who suffer from bipolar disorder may experience immense amounts of depressive episodes. These episodes could alternate with periods of intensified activity if someone who has bipolar disorder is abusing drugs or alcohol. Because of this, the possibility of adverse outcomes becomes more likely.

Because bipolar disorder and substance use disorder often occur simultaneously, one might think that the link between the two would present itself plain as day. However, this is not the case. The connection between bipolar disorder and substance use disorder isn’t completely clear. However, there are some factors that could potentially play a huge role, those of which include the following:

  • Inherited traits
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Mania

Inherited Traits

When it comes to developing bipolar disorder and a substance use disorder at the same time, genetics may play a large role. Sometimes, genetics will impact brain chemistry linked to bipolar disorder. Genetics can also affect the way that someone responds to alcohol or drug use. This makes the possibility of developing a substance use disorder more likely. 

Depression and Anxiety

When people experience hardships such as depression or anxiety, it becomes more and more difficult to say no to coping mechanisms such as alcohol or drugs. Substances may give some temporary escape, but this actually heightens the symptoms of bipolar disorder. This has the potential to send individuals into a downward spiral, which is difficult to come back from. 

Mania

Mania, as previously mentioned, is a feeling of elation or euphoria that results in hyperactive behavior. Because of this, it becomes difficult for individuals to use proper judgment. This all results in some sort of substance abuse. 

Dual Diagnosis

Bipolar disorder and substance use disorder, when coexisting, are extremely dangerous and should be taken very seriously. When both of these happen simultaneously, the impact of one can affect the other. In addition to this, suffering from both bipolar disorder and a substance use disorder puts individuals at a higher risk for symptoms like mood swings, depression, violence, and suicidal thoughts or actions.

Bipolar disorder can also co-occur with opiate abuse and is very common. Those who are dealing with an opiate abuse problem and bipolar disorder are usually abusing opiates to cope or self-medicate. This is because opiates cause emotions of immense euphoria. Because individuals that are suffering from depressive episodes, want to feel better, so they take or abuse opiates so that they can find relief. 

When individuals suffer from bipolar disorder and a substance use disorder (SUD), it’s referred to as a co-occurring disorder or a dual diagnosis. Dual diagnoses make the recovery journey all the more difficult, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to overcome. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. To get a better idea of how to treat a dual diagnosis, it’s important to first know what a dual diagnosis is. 

What is a Dual Diagnosis?

A dual diagnosis, also known as co-occurring disorders, is when someone is suffering from a substance use disorder and another mental illness simultaneously. Sometimes, the existence of a particular co-occurring disorder could be completely unrelated, but in some cases of bipolar disorder, substance abuse occurs with it simultaneously. 

Treatment for Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse

Some methods of treatment for bipolar disorder include the following:

  • Medication
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy

When suffering from bipolar disorder, it can seem as though all hope is lost. Sometimes, it feels as though your identity has been reduced to a single mental illness; this, however, is far from the truth. There are ways to combat the illness, alleviate the symptoms, and maintain stability when it comes to mood. Not only is there treatment for bipolar disorder, but there’s treatment available for both a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and substance use disorder. 

For example, therapy is a great way to treat bipolar disorder and substance use disorder. They work well on an individual level and on the level of a co-occurring disorder. Some methods of therapy are great at helping individuals find stability in their battle with mental illness. This overall gives people a better quality of life.

Medication is also commonly used to manage bipolar disorder. Mood stabilizers like lithium, divalproex sodium (Depakote) and lamotrigine (Lamictal) can prevent the highs and lows of the disorder. It can also help prevent these moods from interfering with work and school.

CNV Detox is Here for You

Substance use disorder is a tough burden to carry. What’s even worse is having to deal with both bipolar disorder and substance abuse at the same time. At CNV Detox, we are passionate about meeting each individual where they’re at. We specialize in individual treatment because we believe people are unique; their treatment should reflect that. If you or a loved one are struggling with both bipolar disorder and substance use disorder and would like to find out more, contact us today.