Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse Is There A Link

Studies indicate that between forty and seventy percent of those with bipolar disorder also have a current or previous history of substance abuse. Compared with those without a co-occurring disorder, those with co-occurring illnesses may derive less benefit from treatment for their mood disorder, recover more slowly from episodes, spend more time in hospitals and have higher risks for suicide than those without a dual diagnosis.

These facts demonstrate the importance of considering both the bipolar disorder and any substance use disorder when determining the best treatment and management strategy.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes dramatic mood swings that can go from elated and joyful to sad and hopeless, often with normal mood periods in between. The periods of highs and lows are called episodes of mania and depression. Along with these mood swing episodes, bipolar disorder also causes severe changes in energy and behavior.

The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be quite severe, and they are not the same as normal ups and downs that everyone experiences from time to time. For those dealing with bipolar disorder, the symptoms make it very difficult to engage in everyday life. This can result in damaged relationships, diminished performance at school or work and even suicide.

Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse

It is difficult to explain the high rate of substance abuse and among individuals suffering from bipolar disorder, and there are numerous factors involved.

One contributing factor may be that many individuals attempt to self-medicate to reduce the troubling symptoms of their bipolar disorder. Rather than experience anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and pain, some turn to drugs and alcohol to temporarily escape.

An individual’s age and gender may also play a role, according to some research. For example, based on a study published in the journal Bipolar Disorders, drug abuse is more common in young men with bipolar than in females or older age groups. However, alcoholism is seven times higher among women with bipolar disorder than among the general population.

Clinical researchers are studying additional factors that influence both mental illness and substance abuse, including the effects of brain chemistry on both.

In individuals with bipolar disorder, there are often abnormal levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals affect numerous bodily functions and directly contribute to one’s mood and emotions. Drugs and alcohol further interfere with the how the brain processes these chemicals, causing even more severe emotional instability, erratic energy levels and depression.

It is unclear whether the mental disorder is causing people to turn to drugs or alcohol out of an unconscious need to stabilize their moods, or whether the substance abuse is triggering or intensifying the symptoms of the disorder. But whatever the precise nature of the link, substance abuse has a detrimental effect and makes the symptoms of bipolar disorder worse.

Treatment Options

Regardless of which came first, bipolar disorder or substance abuse, effective treatment necessarily involves addressing both problems. There are varying approaches to treating a dual diagnosis, depending upon the specific needs of the individual. According to Mayo Clinic, finding an effective treatment may include:

  • Initial treatment. It is vital to work with a doctor or other professional who can prescribe medications to balance your moods. Once the symptoms of bipolar are under control, you’ll be better able to determine the best long-term treatment.
  • Ongoing treatment. Because of the underlying causes of bipolar disorder, it requires lifelong treatment, even when you’re feeling better. Maintenance treatment may involve medications, psychological counseling and education or support groups.
  • Substance abuse treatment. If there are problems with alcohol or drugs, substance abuse treatment is essential. In some cases, this issue must be dealt with first, before effective treatment of bipolar disorder is possible.
  • Hospitalization. If your symptoms are particularly severe, hospitalization may be recommended. This is important if you’re behaving dangerously, feel suicidal or become detached from reality. Psychiatric treatment can help keep you safe while stabilizing your mood.
Depression and Alcoholism Co-Occurring Disorders

There are many reasons why individuals suffer from alcoholism, and genetics, environmental factors and mental health issues are just a few explanations. Co-occurring disorders occur when an individual suffers from both a mental health issue and an addiction. Though they are completely treatable, co-occurring disorders are especially delicate and require integrated clinical therapy to achieve lasting results. >/p>

Depression Statistics

Nearly a third of individuals who suffer from major depressive disorder also suffer from alcoholism. Though it can be hard to determine with certainty, in many cases the depression is present before the addiction takes place.

These numbers are compounded by the fact that 10 percent of Americans experience depression, yet more than 80 percent of those who deal with depression go undiagnosed and untreated. In the absence of professional treatment, it’s not uncommon for those suffering in silence to deepen their relationship with alcohol.

Negative Feedback Loops

Whether alcoholism is caused by depression or vice versa varies on a case-by-case scenario, but what remains the same is the impact that the two have on one another. For an individual struggling with alcoholism and depression, the negative feedback loop is self-perpetuating.

A person drinks in an attempt to feel better, only to find that the relief is merely temporary, if at all. This may lead to further attempts to self-medicate by drinking larger amounts with more frequency. Through this process, depression compounds these factors, leading the individual to quickly descend into addiction.

Social Consequences

The seemingly endless cycle of addiction has residual social repercussions as well. Many times people find themselves not caring about anything outside of their addiction. They may be unwilling to speak with others, show up at work or do anything that might interfere with their drinking routine. The inability to listen to reason, combined with disconnection from the world around them, produces a potent fertilizer in which depression, anxiety and addiction can grow.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Quitting cold turkey can not only be ineffective, it can be dangerous. Receiving help from certified professionals through a medically supervised detox program will greatly increase chances of recovery and decrease the dangers that come along with detoxing.

Trained specialists look at the root of the addiction and mental health issue and treat them both from the very start—healing both mind and body. Peoplecan learn new ways to cope with their mental health issues and begin to discover the potential that they may have thought was gone forever.

Types of Therapy

Many dual-diagnosis treatment facilities go beyond conventional individual and group therapy, giving individuals the chance to get to know themselves again through activities like art, yoga, exercise and music. When administered effectively and adhered to, therapy can help resolve co-occurring disorders and give people suffering from addiction the tools they need to overcome obstacles in a healthy and positive way.

Anyone who is suffering from alcoholism or who may be developing a drinking problem shouldn’t wait to treat these issues. The more time that passes, the more difficult it will be to break the negative feedback loop.