Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse – Are They Connected?

Bipolar disorder and substance abuse are not the same things, yet they frequently occur at the same time. Understanding this will help those who care for people with bipolar disorder manage their condition and combat the desire to give in to substance abuse.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

According to the National Institutes of Health, bipolar disorder is a “brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.” These shifts can impact the individual’s ability to function in normal life, which can lead to a need for treatment. The mood changes put bipolar individuals at a higher risk of drug and alcohol addiction.

What Is Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse refers to a dependence on an addictive substance. Typically, substance abuse is in the form of alcohol or drug dependency.

How Are Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse Connected

The chaotic moods and shifts in personality that occur in bipolar disorder are unsettling for the individual who is suffering from the condition. The discomfort this chaos creates can send the patient searching for anything possible to make the feelings stop. Drugs that increase good moods, like opioids, alcohol and marijuana, can feel like a remedy for the problem, and they provide temporary relief.

Interestingly, a significant connection between bipolar disorder and addiction appears to exist. In a study published in the American Journal of Managed Care, 56 percent of those who had bipolar disorder also had alcohol or drug addictions at some point in their life, with alcohol being the most commonly abused substance in this population. Because of this connection, many who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder are also diagnosed with a drug or alcohol problem at the same time.

Why does this happen? No one knows for sure, but it could be an attempt by the individual to self-regulate and gain control of the condition. Some may turn to drugs for a release from their overwhelming moods. For some, addiction comes first and triggers the depression or manic moods that are characteristic of bipolar disorder. Regardless, the connection needs to be considered when seeking treatment.

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Little Genuine Research

Unfortunately, outside of one particular study, few research studies into this connection have occurred. This is because studies on bipolar patients tend to screen out those who have substance abuse problems, and substance abuse studies tend to screen out those with psychiatric problems. More research into the two conditions as a dual diagnosis is definitely needed to provide patients with the best possible care.

Seeking Treatment

Because of the close connection between bipolar disorder and addiction, the two conditions should be treated together. This was not how they were treated in the past, when patients would first be treated for bipolar disorder in a mental health facility and then treated in rehab for their addiction. Unfortunately, treating these two conditions separately, or treating just one without treating the other, rarely works. Comprehensive care for both is require to prevent relapse.

An integrated approach to treatment involves a partnership between mental health professionals and addiction treatment specialists. Whenever possible, a single rehabilitation facility is ideal for these patients, but that facility needs to offer collaboration between addiction counselors, psychologists and medical professionals who can help manage all aspects of the patient’s care.

Once the addiction has been addressed and treated and the bipolar disorder has been assessed, an ongoing treatment with psychotherapy and psychiatric medications is essential to helping avoid a relapse into further addiction and future psychiatric problems. Managing the bipolar disorder and preventing the associated mood swings becomes crucial to controlling the addiction.

If you are looking for help managing bipolar disorder and substance abuse, the right treatment facility is critical. Contact to speak with an addiction treatment specialist as you search for the help you need.

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