The Connection Between Bipolar Disorder and Addiction

The Connection Between Bipolar Disorder and Addiction

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that affects just over 2% of the American population. Of that group of people, over half of them will or have developed an addiction to either drugs or alcohol. This disorder is a hurdle for those who live with it and addiction just makes it even more challenging. The good news is that there is a treatment for both addiction and bipolar disorders. Dual diagnosis programs treat both bipolar disorder and addiction concurrently so that the recovering individual has the best chance for a life of sobriety and can manage their mental health.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness involving episodes of depression followed by periods of manic energy. This disorder, much like an addiction, has the potential to be damaging to a person’s overall well-being. Individuals afflicted with bipolar disorder experience four different mood stages. Those emotional stages include:

Mania: This emotional stage has the most energy. In this state, individuals with bipolar disorder have moments of creativity and can behave in ways they  wouldn’t in other emotional stages. There are records of individuals that paint or play piano in their manic stages but they do not know how to do those things once the manic stage passes. Symptoms of the manic state of bipolar disorder include:

  •      Sleeplessness
  •      Delusional thinking
  •      Over talking
  •      Elaborate emotions
  •      Extreme highs and lows
  •      Hallucinations
  •      Impaired judgments
  •      Unusual behaviors

Hypomania: This is an emotional stage of manic energy but less intense. Those in this state will still need less sleep, talk faster, experience high and low emotions, and may partake in unusual behaviors. This means that those in a hypomanic stage are more at risk for participating in harmful behaviors like drug or alcohol abuse.

Depression: This emotional stage is the lowest state of emotion for an individual struggling with bipolar disorder. Depression can cause a person to make decisions that could be harmful to themselves like suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Additionally, depression raises the risk of substance abuse since it can cause a person to feel like they are not worthy of worrying about the health risks of drugs. For those that have an alcohol addiction, its morose tendencies only make the depression that comes with bipolar disorder worse. Characteristics of the depressive state include:

  •      Feelings of hopelessness
  •      Over-sleeping
  •      Extreme exhaustion
  •      Feelings of self-hate
  •      Eating behavioral changes
  •      Apathy for interests
  •      Thoughts of suicide

Mixed Emotional Stages and Symptom Severity

Bipolar disorder is not always so black and white. Some people living with bipolar disorder have emotional stages that signify both manic and depressive states. This means that during this state, a person could experience a mix of symptoms of manic and depressive states at the same exact time. Often, individuals will self-medicate to balance these thoughts and emotions with drugs or alcohol. This will only make emotions harder to control and create cause for the body to develop an addiction.

Treatment for Bipolar Disorder and Addiction

In the past, medical professionals treated bipolar disorder and addiction separately. Doctors now know that addiction and mood disorders play off of each other. A person that is only treated for addiction and leaves treatment without mental help will pose an extremely high risk for relapse in early recovery. On the other hand, those who are treated for bipolar disorder may still experience the consequences of addiction allowing the addiction cycle to continue. The best way to treat both ailments sits within what is called a dual diagnosis treatment. 

Medical: Treatment for bipolar disorder will have, to begin with, a comprehensive analysis of the disorder by a psychiatrist to determine the exact type of bipolar disorder the individual suffers from. From there, medication decisions need to be made to manage the disorder.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: This type of therapy aims to identify the underlying causes of both bipolar disorder and addiction. Once an individual can identify what triggers their behaviors that negatively affect their life, they can learn to manage their thoughts so that those behaviors do not occur. One cannot face their demons without confronting them. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps to do just that.

Mental Health and Addiction Education: During treatment, a person in a dual diagnosis program will receive education on both mental health and addiction. This will help a recovering person to be able to identify what their body is saying once treatment concludes. Those who are addicted to substances usually do not possess the knowledge to recognize when something’s not right. Also, they may be unsure if their body is reacting to  drugs or something else. Seeking sobriety and education will allow those struggling with bipolar disorder and addiction to better understand their addiction and mental health issues.

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