Bipolar disorder is a complex mental illness that significantly impacts the lives of more than 6 million American adults each year. The primary characteristic of bipolar disorder is the presence of extreme moods swings, alternating from depressive episodes to manic episodes. The symptoms of the disorder are quite disruptive to the individual, which may result in the development of a co-occurring substance problem.
Living with bipolar disorder poses many challenges. People who struggle with the disorder have a difficult time keeping employment, and often have strained personal relationships as well. Bipolar disorder can present dangers to the person’s physical health due to the elevated risk of self-harm and suicide. Because the mood swings are often unpredictable and destabilizing, those with bipolar disorder may tend to self-isolate. Although bipolar disorder is a serious mental health challenge, with the right combination of interventions it is manageable.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is among the group of major affective disorders, or mood disorders that affects an equal number of men and women. Bipolar disorder usually emerges in adolescence or early adulthood.
What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?
The symptoms of bipolar will differ depending on whether the individual is experiencing mania or depression:
Symptoms of manic episodes:
- Intense irritability
- Rapid speech
- Racing thoughts
- Lack of sleep
- Reduced appetite
- Aggressive behavior
- Impulsive and risky behaviors
- Poor judgment
- Increased energy
- Grandiose thoughts
Symptoms of depressive episodes:
- Persistent sadness
- Changes in appetite, weight gain or loss
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Feelings of hopelessness or despair
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in the activities or hobbies previously enjoyed
- Suicidal ideation
What are the types of bipolar disorder?
There are four types of bipolar disorder, each with unique features that distinguish one from the other:
- Bipolar I. This is the most commonly diagnosed form of bipolar disorder and features extreme mood shifts between mania and depression
- Bipolar II. This type is characterized by at least one depressive episode and one hypomanic (less severe than manic) episode. Depression symptoms are more prevalent in bipolar II
- Cyclothymic disorder. This form of bipolar features milder versions of both mania and depression that occur often
- Mixed features or not otherwise specified. This type of bipolar has symptoms of mania and depression that do not meet diagnostic criteria
What causes bipolar disorder?
Science has not yet determined the exact cause of bipolar disorder. However, there are identified factors that are believed to contribute to the disorder, such as:
- Genetics, a family history of mental illness or bipolar disorder
- Irregular brain chemistry or functioning
- Environmental, such as an abusive or unstable childhood, death of a parent, or protracted stressful home life
- Substance use, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, or hallucinogens, may bring about the symptoms of bipolar disorder
Bipolar Disorder and Substance Use
Similar to other mental health disorders, individuals with bipolar disorder often turn to the comfort of a substance to help soften the symptoms. A co-occurring substance use disorder intensifies each of the disorders’ symptoms and does complicate the rehabilitation process. A dual diagnosis treatment program is the appropriate setting for helping someone with both bipolar disorder and a substance use problem.
Alcohol is the most common substance accessed by individuals suffering from bipolar disorder. There is a high prevalence of these two coexisting disorders, as alcohol is inexpensive and readily available while providing the desired calming effect.
Whether or not there is a co-occurring substance use issue present, bipolar disorder is manageable with a combination of evidence-based therapies, holistic interventions, and medication. If there is comorbid substance use present, dual diagnosis treatment will also include 12-step programming, addiction education, and relapse prevention planning for a comprehensive approach to recovery.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.