Bipolar disorder can cause extreme highs and lows, making it a formidable condition that deserves professional treatment, especially when self-medicating and substance abuse issues are involved.
Bipolar is a term that’s becoming more common, but stereotypes and misunderstandings still abound when it comes to truly understanding this mental health issue. But more than 2 million American adults struggle with bipolar disorder every year, making it important to know the facts of bipolar disorder as well as how to recognize symptoms and identify treatment options.
The ABCs of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder has a mix of symptoms, both manic and depressive, consisting of several emotional “states” that a person fluctuates between:
- Depression – Symptoms include sad or angry mood, negativity towards themselves and others, sleep problems (too much or too little), change in eating patterns (too much or too little), thoughts of suicide or death, despair, hopelessness, social isolation
- Mania – Symptoms include rushed speech, flight of ideas, racing thoughts, decreased need for sleep, excessive energy, heightened sex drive, reckless behaviors such as spending sprees, crime, dare-devil activities, impulsivity, heightened aggression, feelings of invincibility, overestimating one’s abilities and inflated ego
- Hypomania – This milder form of mania may not seem to interfere with daily life, but it could easily transition into full mania or crash into depression. This high-energy state in which a person feels exuberant but hasn’t lost his or her grip on reality may feel good, but it doesn’t last — and coming down off that high can be dangerous.
- Mixed mood – Moods can change and cycle rapidly, even within one day. A good mood can be a sign of good health, but bipolar disorder is also characterized by up-and-down episodes of mania and depression, so extreme highs and lows may be cause for concern.
Those with bipolar disorder often have difficulty at work as their symptoms interfere with their ability to show up for work, do their job and interact productively with others. Erratic behavior is also a warning sign. Those in a manic phase can have an inflated self-esteem, feel grandiose and not consider the consequences, leading to spending sprees or unusual sexual behavior. People suffering from bipolar disorder will also often have sleep problems, be unable to get out of bed during a depression phase and not sleep enough during a manic phase while still having an overabundance of energy.
It may be hard for those with bipolar disorder to see their symptoms clearly, so it’s important for loved ones to be on the lookout for early indicators, especially before the sufferer starts attempting to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.
Bipolar Disorder & Substance Abuse
Bipolar disorder and addiction have an alarmingly strong connection:
- It’s estimated that 56 percent of individuals with bipolar disorder can be dually diagnosed with a substance abuse issue as well.
- The depression part of the cycle often leads into drug or alcohol relapse.
- Manic episodes of bipolar increase a person’s lifetime risk for addiction to four times that of the general population.
- Addiction tends to increase an individual’s resistance to lithium, a drug that may be used to treat bipolar disorder.
The complexities of co-occurring disorders are still not universally understood across the medical and mental health professions, and treating bipolar disorder in conjunction with substance abuse is a new approach, but it’s one that has seen great success.
Treating Bipolar Disorder
Treating the co-occurring disorders of bipolar and substance abuse together is the most comprehensive plan and offers the best success rate. So many people have had just an addiction or a mental health disorder treated, leaving their other issues untouched. A Dual Diagnosis program takes into account the entire person and how dual disorders can feed on and contribute to the other.
Bipolar treatment usually involves a combination of mood-stabilizing medication and therapies including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Typical antidepressants don’t work well in patients who are bipolar. They can even make people cycle more frequently, worsening their condition, or send them into break-with-reality episodes. That’s why it’s crucial to find a team of professionals who understand the complexities of effectively treating co-occurring disorders.