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Addictions and Bipolar Disorder



Bipolar disorder is one that can be extremely difficult to treat under normal circumstances. When combined with addiction, even the most skilled clinicians are challenged to get it under control. Surprisingly, estimates suggest nearly 60% of bipolar patients also suffer from substance abuse or addiction.

It’s not clear if the bipolar condition leads to addiction or the other way around. On the other hand, perhaps there is no specific cause and effect link between the two. That said, a bipolar condition could further complicate matters in a number of ways:

  • it can lead to a misdiagnosis of either condition

  • the symptoms of one can mask the other

  • addictive substances can hinder bipolar treatment.

Bipolar Disorder Explained

Bipolar disorder is classified as a mental illness characterised by extreme mood swings. A person with the disorder can be extremely happy and excited one minute, and then swing into deep depression and sadness the next. Treating the disorder is somewhat complicated in that the psychiatric community still does not know what causes it.

Most of the therapies in use today consist of a combination of medications and counselling. However, the therapist must take each case individually. This is one of the reasons behind the extra challenges of treating someone suffering from both bipolar disorder and addiction.

Bipolar Disorder Can Lead to Addiction

It should be noted that it is possible for a bipolar condition to lead to substance abuse and addiction if not properly treated. It starts when the individual attempts to self-medicate in order to control mood swings. Alcohol use is one good example of self-medication.

A person who uses alcohol to feel better, without knowing he/she is bipolar, may continue drinking in the same way a binge drinker operates. After a sustained period of drinking to feel better, tolerance can cause the individual to drink more and, thus, alcohol dependence is established.

One other important thing to consider here is that an addiction to prescription medications is also possible. Whenever a bipolar individual attempts to self-medicate outside the constraints of a doctor’s control, the risk of abuse and addiction is always present.

Types of Substances Abused

Studies have shown that drug abusers who are also bipolar tend to favour certain substances over others. During periods of depression for example, individuals may use stimulants or amphetamines to give them more energy. They might also turn to alcohol as a depressant to help them sleep at the end of the day.

During extreme periods of mania, the bipolar individual might use something like Valium to calm down so that he/she can concentrate on specific tasks. When mood swings are extreme and excessive, the combination of drugs going back and forth can be very dangerous.

The combination of bipolar mood swings and substance abuse usually results in an improper diagnosis. It is not uncommon for a bipolar diagnosis to be made only after a drug rehab programme has been completed. Until that time, the mood swings exhibited by the individual are typically attributed to the drug or alcohol use.

What to Do if You Are Bipolar

If you have been diagnosed as being bipolar, or you suspect you might be, the first thing you need to understand is that self-medicating is not an option. A bipolar disorder is not something you are going to be able control on your own. You should immediately seek the help of a licensed professional able to prescribe the correct medications and provide proper monitoring.

When you see your doctor, make sure to inform him or her of any family history of bipolar disorder. Also, make sure to inform him/her of any medications you are currently taking or, when appropriate, any illicit substances you’ve used in the past. All of these things are important to a proper diagnosis and treatment.

If you are already under the care of a physician, you need to make every effort to stay away from alcohol and illicit drugs. To explain why, we’ll use alcohol as an example.

Let’s say your physician prescribes antidepressants in order to control bouts of depression. Consuming alcohol could minimise the effect of those antidepressants to the extent that you need to take more to achieve the desired benefit. Every time you find yourself in this cycle, you may end up taking more medication than the last time. This is exactly how addiction develops.

Getting Help for Someone Else

You may be visiting our website because you’re looking to find help for someone you know. We encourage you to get in touch with a professional if you have reason to believe your friend or loved one is suffering from both bipolar disorder and addiction issues. This is something that is certainly best left to those properly trained to handle it.

Keep in mind that a bipolar diagnosis is very difficult to confirm while the individual is still abusing drugs or alcohol. Therefore, the first course of action will be a treatment programme designed to address addiction. A residential treatment programme is the obvious best choice.

After completion of rehab, any continued symptoms of bipolar disorder should then be easily recognisable. From there your friend or loved one can be properly treated for the disorder.

Feel Free to Call Us

We are by no means experts in the field of bipolar disorder, nor can we help you make a dual diagnosis for yourself or someone you love. However, we can refer you to others who can. We work with the best private clinics around the country as well as addiction recovery charities and professional services.

Our goal is to help you or your family find appropriate services and treatments for addiction recovery. When you contact us, we promise to listen to what you had to say, discuss treatment options with you, and help you access the treatment you need. We are not here to lecture you or give you a hard time.

Rest assured all of our services are free and completely confidential. What we talk about when you contact us will remain just between us. So if you are ready to regain control of your life, please get in touch with us today.

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