Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that involves rapidly changing moods and energy levels, and the inability to concentrate leading to unfinished daily tasks. Another name for bipolar disorder is manic depression.

There are three distinct types of bipolar disorder.  While they can have different symptoms and require different treatments, all three usually involve mood swings and large fluctuations in energy levels. The most obvious sign of any type of bipolar disorder is wide-ranging mood swings. The “highs” (or manic episodes) can last for hours or even months. Depressive (or hypomanic) episodes typically always follow these peaks.   

Different Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar I Disorder

Characteristics of Bipolar I disorder include intense high periods that can last for days or weeks. These manic episodes can sometimes become severe enough to warrant hospitalization. People suffering from Bipolar 1 also may experience lows (depressive episodes) but they generally don’t last as long or reach the level of the manic episodes. 

Bipolar II Disorder

Bipolar II disorder is usually identified by reoccurring depressive (hypomanic) episodes. While all bipolar disorders have major swings between highs and lows,  bipolar II does not usually have the drawn-out manic episodes that are commonly associated with bipolar I.

Cyclothymic Disorder (Also Called Cyclothymia)

Symptoms of Bipolar DisorderCyclothymic disorder is a type of bipolar disorder known for the longevity of its high and low swings. The cyclothymic disorder can be difficult to diagnose because manic or hypomanic episodes can last as long as years. With a little variance in behavior, patients suffering from this type of bipolar can often be misdiagnosed, especially if substance abuse is also present. 

Many people have one or more symptoms of bipolar disorder but do not fall directly into one of the categories above. These people can often be labeled with a general “unspecified bipolar disorder” and are also commonly misdiagnosed with ADHD, depression, or anxiety. 

A bipolar diagnosis typically happens in the teenage years or adolescence. Occasionally, bipolar symptoms can appear in children as young as 3 but will often be confused with ADHD, obsessive defiant disorder, or similar behavioral disorders. While symptoms can come and go, bipolar usually does not “disappear” and may even require lifelong treatment. While facing bipolar can be difficult, professional help and medication can ease many of the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar, by definition, produces wild swings in behavior, thus symptoms can vary greatly by the individual. However, some symptoms are nearly universal. Noticing them may aid you or your loved one in getting proper help. 

Someone suffering from bipolar may experience one or more of the following symptoms during a manic (high) episode:

  • Sustained feelings of elation without an obvious reason
  • Feeling ”high” or extremely energetic all the time
  • Inability to sleep or relax
  • Loss of appetite or forgetting to eat
  • Randomly engaging in risky behaviors due to feelings of “invincibility”
  • Talking very fast, rapid breathing, or inability to hold still

Someone suffering from bipolar disorder may experience the following symptoms when in a low (hypomanic or depressive) state:

  • Uncontrollable feelings of depression
  • Feelings of worthlessness, loneliness, or even suicidal ideation
  • Fluctuations in appetite or weight
  • Difficulty with concentration and decision making
  • Loss of desire for sex, hobbies, or other enjoyable activities

Receiving an Accurate Diagnosis

All types of bipolar disorder can be extremely disruptive to the patient and their loved ones, but people who seek proper treatment can expect to see noticeable results. The first step is receiving an accurate diagnosis from a licensed professional. Generally, this will include a physical exam and necessary neurological or behavioral tests to come to a proper understanding. 

A psychiatrist may also perform a mental health screening or refer to another psychiatric care provider (licensed counselors, social workers, or psychologists).  While general practitioners can perform a bipolar diagnosis, it’s better to receive an opinion from a specialist. If there are questions about the validity of the diagnosis, it is important to get multiple opinions. A true diagnosis is central to appropriate and effective treatment. 

Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder

Receiving an Accurate DiagnosisEffective treatment for any form of bipolar disorder is best approached in partnership with a licensed psychiatrist who has experience dealing with various types of bipolar disorder. The most successful treatment plans stem from a team effort and will include care from licensed mental health counselors, social workers, other treatment staff, and even loved ones.  

Bipolar disorder is usually a lifelong issue. However, those with this condition can manage its symptoms. Through a combination of proper treatments, bipolar patients can expect to see life-changing and long-lasting improvements in symptoms. Some of the most common treatments for bipolar include: 

Medication Options

Depending on how severe the symptoms are, it may be important to begin medication immediately after diagnosis. Some commonly prescribed medications for bipolar disorder include mood stabilizers such as lithium or SSRIs (serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Lexapro. 

Ongoing Treatment

Bipolar disorder often requires lifelong treatment with medications, even during periods with inactive symptoms. Bypassing “maintenance treatment” increases the risk of relapse or sudden jump into mania/hypomania.

Outpatient Therapy

Outpatient treatment is one of the most common and effective methods of treating ongoing bipolar disorder. As opposed to residential treatment, outpatient treatment options allow the patient to maintain a semblance of “normal life” while attending professional treatment on their own schedule. This option will include several different types of therapies, including one-on-one, group, and even recreational options. Yet, inpatient therapy is typically the best option for those suffering from a serious mental illness, such as bipolar disorder.

Residential Treatment and Hospitalization

Short or long-term residential treatment, or even hospitalization, may be options if dangerous behaviors that prove to be risky to you or those around you continue. Getting proper psychiatric treatment at a hospital or residential treatment facility can help keep you safe and stabilize your mood, whether in the midst of a manic or major depressive episode. Plus, it helps remove the danger of any external triggers. 

Substance Abuse Treatment

Bipolar disorder often comes with a co-occurring disorder (also known as a “dual diagnosis”) of some type of substance abuse. Treating the substance abuse disorder effectively can help many of the symptoms of bipolar disorder significantly. 

Bipolar Disorder and Drug Abuse Disorder

How Does Bipolar Disorder and Drug Abuse Relate?Substance abuse is a common side effect of (or precursor to) a hypomanic bipolar state. As many as 40% of bipolar patients also have a co-occurring substance abuse disorder. Particularly during bouts of hypomania, those who suffer from bipolar disorder can use alcohol or other substances to numb the seemingly uncontrollable symptoms of hypomania.  

The behavioral swings of bipolar disorder can push a patient into risky substance abuse behaviors. Individuals with bipolar disorder are significantly more prone to binge drinking and other harmful substance use behaviors. 

Binge drinking or drug use episodes will often coincide with manic (high) or hypomanic (low) states. Someone with bipolar disorder can turn to substance use to numb the seemingly uncontrollable symptoms. Conversely, using drugs and alcohol can significantly worsen all major symptoms of bipolar disorder. 

How Does Bipolar Disorder and Drug Abuse Relate?

Often getting drunk or high results in a vow to never use that substance again. However, those suffering from bipolar disorder find that quitting any substance use can be extremely difficult. People suffering from bipolar disorder will often continue to use drugs or alcohol to “mask” the difficult symptoms of bipolar disorder

There is no question that all types of bipolar disorder can be difficult to manage, even without a co-occurring disorder. It’s important to understand that substance use magnifies the negative symptoms of bipolar disorder and can worsen manic or hypomanic states significantly. Making matters worse, commonly prescribed medications for bipolar can prove as difficult to manage as the disease itself. This can lead patients to “self-medicate” with alcohol or other dangerous substances. 

Although it may offer short-term “relief” from some symptoms of bipolar disorder, alcohol is an extremely dangerous substance to mix with any mental illness. It’s recommended to abstain from alcohol altogether if you have any symptoms or a bipolar diagnosis. This is the only way to guarantee no addiction will develop. 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Bipolar Disorder and Drug Abuse 

Not everyone who suffers from bipolar disorder also has a co-occurring substance use disorder and vice versa. However, bipolar disorder and substance abuse is a very common dual diagnosis and do not mix well together.  Any successful treatment for either bipolar disorder or substance abuse must address both parts of the dual diagnoses equally to be successful. 

Professional treatment is the most important aspect of successfully managing bipolar disorder and substance abuse. Finding an excellent treatment center that can help with every aspect of recovery — from detox to counseling to mental health — is the key to navigating these difficult co-occurring disorders.  That is where The Key To Recovery comes in.

Manage Both a Bipolar Disorder and Drug Abuse Disorder 

It’s extremely important to seek help from a respected treatment provider who specializes in dual diagnosis treatment. There are many aspects of successful recovery and many ingredients to regain control over your life, and we can help with them all. 

At The Key to Recovery, our trained professionals are skilled in treatments for both disorders. We are ready to provide you with expert service from intake to follow-up. Our residential program will help you deal with the difficulties presented by a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and substance abuse in a safe, clean and professional environment. 

The Key to Recovery Can Help You Find Your Way

If you or your loved one are experiencing bipolar disorder or substance abuse symptoms, contact us today to see how we can help. There is no time like the present to begin a journey towards a better you.