The Invisible Link Between Substance Abuse and Bipolar Disorder

The Invisible Link Between Substance Abuse and Bipolar Disorder

A national study conducted by the American Journal of Managed Care reveals that 56% of the participants who have bipolar disorder have gone through substance addiction at least once during their lifetime. Out of their participants, at least 41% have either been addicted to drugs or are abusing drugs. About 46% have been addicted to alcohol or abused alcohol.

The numbers speak volumes as they show just how related bipolar disorder is to substance addiction. There are some who have pre-existing bipolar disorder that get hooked on drugs. Others didn’t have a history of mental health issues but developed the disorder following substance addiction.

This co-occurring condition is indeed difficult to treat. Either one is challenging to address on its own, so when a person has both illnesses, treatment can become a bit tricky. Special care is important to healing the individual, which can be provided by the top dual diagnosis treatment programs.

The Invisible Link Between Substance Abuse and Bipolar Disorder
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Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Otherwise known as manic-depressive illness, bipolar disorder is described by the National Institute of Mental Health as a condition where the person experiences an unusual shift in mood. There is also a drastic change in one’s capacity to do everyday tasks as well as their overall activity and energy levels.

A person can exhibit extreme feelings and moods and then shift into a totally different one within minutes. They can have manic episodes where they feel pleased and energized. They will also have depressing episodes where they feel the utmost loneliness and sadness. The less severe manic feelings they go through are called hypomanic episodes.

The illness is categorized into four basic types:

  • Bipolar Disorder I – manic episodes last for a minimum of seven days or the person exhibits severe symptoms thus needing immediate hospital care. The depressing episodes, meanwhile, can last for at least two weeks. But it is also possible for manic episodes to co-occur during this time.
  • Bipolar II Disorder – no full-scale manic episodes happen for this type. There only depressive and hypomanic episodes.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder – there are a lot of hypomanic and depressive episodes happening for this type that typically lasts for a minimum of two years. These episodes do not exclusively meet the diagnostic requirement of either of the two other types of Bipolar Disorder.
  • Other Unspecified and Specified Bipolar and Related Disorders – These do not match any of the categories already mentioned.


The disorder may still be present even if changes in mood are less severe. Family members and the people surrounding the person who suffer from this condition are usually the ones who recognize that there is something wrong. The individual concerned may feel good, function well, and is very productive—but there are many telltale signs. The change in their activity levels and mood swings are a good gauge if the disorder exists.

When you add these symptoms with addiction, you’ll find yourself getting tangled in a long line of problems. Thus, seeking help from the best dual diagnosis treatment centers is essential.

Spotting Possible Bipolar Disorder:

According to the non-profit group,, bipolar disorder will manifest itself in several symptoms. Among these include:


  • Being too hyper;
  • Feeling euphoric or “high”;
  • Talking so fast;
  • Being impulsive and rash;
  • Inability to focus;
  • Inability to finish a task;
  • Lack of sleep doesn’t affect energy level; and
  • Unrealistic view of one’s ability.


One subset of this is hypomania. It’s like a manic episode but less intense.

Depressive State

  • A feeling of emptiness that couldn’t be filled;
  • Loss of energy;
  • Weight loss due to disinterest in food;
  • Feeling of extreme guilt or worthlessness;
  • Can’t derive pleasure from external stimuli;
  • Constant irritability;
  • Memory lapses; and
  • Suicidal thoughts.


Bipolars also often experience a mixed episode. In this case, the manic and depressive states are occurring at the same time. This is also the time when they are most dangerous and are more likely to act on their suicidal thoughts.

Why Do People With Bipolar Consume Drugs and Alcohol?

The polarizing effect of drugs and alcohol on people with bipolar is rooted in the nature of the condition. The disorder can leave the person with panic attacks caused by numerous triggers. Drinking alcohol and taking in drugs can have a calming effect.

For some, they might not know just what exactly is happening or that what is occurring is already a symptom of manic-depressive illness. All they know is how the substance calms their nerves and gets them through an episode.

Why Are Bipolars More Likely to Have Addiction?

The danger of drinking, however, is very real. Most patients don’t know it but alcohol is a mood depressant. They are only aggravating their condition over time.

The effect is two-fold: First, the chemical characteristics of alcohol will worsen their depressive tendencies. Second, reducing the inhibitory functions will encourage the patient to take more risks, especially when they are in their manic state. This means they will gamble more freely, they may pick a fight, they will engage in unsafe sex, and they are likely to drive home drunk.

They are more susceptible to suggestions, such as engaging in a life-threatening dare because of their grandiose self-worth.

Bipolars are already twice as likely to develop an alcohol problem at some point in their lives. The high rate is normal in the spectrum of mental illness. About 25% of adults with a mental condition are also struggling with substance abuse.

There’s no easy answer on the link between substance abuse and mental illness. However, psychiatrists and counselors agree that one of the prevailing reasons is that patient wanted to manage the symptoms of his mental disorder by self-medicating.

Being under the influence does make them forget their own issues but the euphoric feeling will only be temporary. They will come down naturally. And when they crash, the symptoms of their mental illness become more pronounced. Hence, the cycle of addiction starts.

Best Treatments for People With Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse Problem

Treatment centers have found success in treating dual diagnosis by dealing with the mental issue first. In this case, the bipolar disorder of the patient. By managing the condition, the patient no longer has any reason for turning to drugs or alcohol once those are flushed away from the system. A case where the substance abuse is more severe than the disorder itself is extremely rare.

The stigma in society is very real. This is one of the reasons why most bipolar patients are self-medicating, which often leads to abuse.

Historically, patients with the disorder fully know that their drug or alcohol use is spiraling out of control. But they are helpless to do something about it. Truth be told, their actions are understandable. Only those who have gone through their experience will fully recognize the fact that the condition itself is far worse compared to the addiction.

In most cases, the choice boils down to zoning out or killing yourself. The good news is that help is available. Dual diagnosis treatment centers have both the experience and expertise to handle co-occurring conditions with a great deal of success. These rehab facilities are equipped with expert medical staff and facilities to give the best service to the patients.



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