Individuals struggling with bipolar disorder are far more susceptible to substance abuse than any other clinical psychiatric disorder. Bipolar disorder most often starts during young adulthood, but also occurs in children and adolescents. The use of drugs and alcohol also usually starts during the teenage years.
Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is an acute mental disorder that is characterized by sudden and drastic mood shifts, ranging from episodes of mania and aggression to the lows of depression. These changes do not just affect the mood, but affect behavior and energy levels as well.
Bipolar disorder affects the afflicted person’s physical and emotional well-being. According to the American Journal of Managed Care, around 56 percent of individuals with bipolar, who participated in a national study, had experienced drug or alcohol addiction during their lifetime. Out of this group, 46 percent had abused alcohol or were addicted to alcohol, whereas 41 percent had abused or were addicted to drugs.
Alcohol is noted to be the most commonly abused substance among bipolar individuals.
One who battles bipolar disorder and a drug or alcohol addiction simultaneously is a prime candidate for dual diagnosis. Such a co-occurring disorder makes recovery all the more challenging, as substance abuse can complicate the treatment process of the condition.
Certain drugs such as marijuana, alcohol and opiates, seem to temporarily relieve mood swings, only to create much more drastic consequential effects later. Others can actively trigger manic depression. Methamphetamine, crank, crystal and cocaine have sent many abusers into mania, often followed quickly by deep depression and psychotic symptoms. Hallucinogens, including LSD and PCP, can set off psychotic symptoms as well. These drugs are detrimental for any child or teenager, but their effects on young people with bipolar disorders are much worse.
There is no straightforward explanation for the high rate of co-occurring substance abuse among individuals with bipolar disorder. One major reason is the urge to self-medicate, which a person with bipolar disorder often experiences. Various studies show a large percentage of the population afflicted with bipolar disorder attempt to self-medicate and numb the troubling symptoms of the disorder through drugs and alcohol. Symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, depression and pain can be dealt with temporarily with the consumption of alcohol and drugs. However, once the substances wear off, the symptoms return with an even greater force.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, drinking and using drugs may actually trigger depressed or manic moods in someone with bipolar disorder.
Furthermore, it is also important to understand the role age and gender play when it comes to bipolar disorder. A study published by PubMed gathered substance abuse histories from 392 patients hospitalized for manic or mixed episodes of bipolar disorder and rates of current and lifetime abuse were calculated. Various analyses were drawn by comparing sex, subtype (manic vs. mixed) and clinical history variables.
Rates of lifetime substance abuse were found to be high for both alcohol (48.5 percent) and drugs (43.9 percent). Nearly 60 percent of the group had a history of lifetime substance abuse. Males were noted to have had higher rates of abuse than females and active substance abuse was found to be lower among the older patients. In fact, subjects with a comorbid diagnosis of lifetime substance abuse had more psychiatric relapses. The study concluded substance abuse to be a major comorbidity in bipolar patients and emphasized the recognition and treatment of substance abuse among patients with bipolar disorder.
Unlike in the past, when the common understanding was to get an alcoholic or drug addict clean and sober prior to psychiatric treatment, current clinical experience indicates that it’s vital to treat the underlying bipolar disorder alongside the substance abuse problem. In fact, mood stabilization is a necessary part of substance-abuse treatment for this demographic.
In addition to the effects substance abuse has on bipolar disorder, few studies have also examined the influence that bipolar disorder has over a substance addiction. For example, in a sample of 59 bipolar patients, Mayfield and Coleman (1968) found that 32 percent increased their alcohol use when manic, whereas only 10 pecent increased their drinking when depressed.
However, there are still several aspects of the relationship between substance use and bipolar disorders that remain unknown. For instance, it’s still unclear whether alcohol or drug abuse disorders are typically associated with more time spent in manic or depressive episodes.
Many people with bipolar disorder are usually fighting other psychiatric or medical problems as well, further complicating their treatment and exacerbating their mood swings. The list includes migraines, seizures, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), developmental delays, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Tourette’s syndrome, anxiety disorders, autism and other pervasive developmental disorders, autoimmune disorders and gastrointestinal disorders. Many of these conditions have symptoms that can easily be confused with those of bipolar disorder.
Treatment can often get complicated because symptoms of bipolar disorder often resemble those of substance abuse or a co-occurring mental disorder. Therefore, when an individual does seek out professional help, it may get confusing even for treatment specialists to distinguish the fine line between mental illness and addiction. It is vital to prevent any drug or alcohol consumption for a person who has already been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At this point, medication and therapy can play a vital role in preventing a relapse.
For such at-risk individuals, the Dual Diagnosis Helpline is an easy and efficient service available to provide help in seeking a dual diagnosis treatment and connecting them with expert professionals. Within the United States, the number of facilities providing high-quality treatment for both conditions simultaneously is limited. This is why we are here for you and your loved ones to get the help you deserve. If you’re seeking more information about dual diagnosis or require immediate treatment, you can always call at 855-981-6047.