Co-Occurring Disorders: The Impact of Bipolar Disorder on Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Peace Valley Recovery Editorial Staff,
Last Updated: January 2, 2022

Co-occurring disorders, such as bipolar disorder, are very common among people with drug and alcohol addictions. Quite often, their substance abuse problem has become a way for them to cope by self-medicating their symptoms.

Not only is abusing substances dangerous for a person’s health and well-being, but it also is not an effective method of managing mental health symptoms. Most people find that even though it may work for a short time, self-medication is not sustainable. Tolerance levels change quickly, and what once worked, eventually no longer does.

It is not uncommon for people to continue to add different types of drugs to the “cocktail” they use to treat their bipolar symptoms. Getting proper treatment for both bipolar disorder and addiction is the best way to manage this co-occurring disorder.

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How Common are Co-Occurring Disorders?

A lot of people are battling mental health conditions and choosing to use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • There are 7.7 million adults who are struggling because of co-occurring mental health issues and addictions.
  • 20.3 million people have substance abuse disorders, and among those people, 37.9% of them also had a mental health issue.
  • 42.1 million people have mental illnesses, and among those people, 18.2% of them also have substance abuse disorders.
  • The problem is that only 9.1% of people who need treatment for co-occurring disorders ever get it.
  • A surprising 52.5% of people with both conditions never get any professional help or support at all.
  • 11.5% do not even know where to go to get the help they need.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder was once called manic-depressive illness or manic depression. It is a mental health condition that causes quick and unusual shifts between manic and depressive behaviors. People find that there are many areas impacted when they have this type of mental illness, such as:

  • Their moods
  • Their energy levels
  • Their activity levels
  • Their ability to concentrate
  • Their ability to manage their everyday tasks and responsibilities

Most of the time, bipolar disorder is diagnosed during late adolescence or early adulthood. But there have also been some children diagnosed with the condition as well. Symptoms can change as time goes on, but ongoing treatment is typically recommended to help manage symptoms.

The Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

The Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

What sets bipolar disorder apart from other mental health issues is the range of symptoms people experience at any given time. They can vary based on whether a person is in a manic phase or a depressive phase.

The symptoms of a manic episode in bipolar disorder include:

  • Feeling very elated or happy.
  • Feeling irritable.
  • Having a decreased need for sleep.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Talking very fast and not being able to stay on topic.
  • Racing thoughts.
  • Feeling wired or jumpy.
  • Taking risks that indicate a lapse in judgment.
  • Feeling overly important or powerful.

The symptoms of a depressive episode in bipolar disorder can include:

  • Feelings of sadness and emptiness.
  • Excessive worry.
  • Feelings of hopelessness.
  • Problems falling asleep and excessive sleep patterns.
  • An increased appetite and weight gain.
  • Becoming forgetful.
  • Problems with concentration.
  • Feeling as though they cannot complete simple tasks.
  • Losing interest in activities they usually enjoy.
  • Thinking about suicide or death.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

There could be a number of causes of bipolar disorder, but experts have found that those causes fall into three main categories:

  • Environmental factors – Certain life events, including physical or mental abuse, stress, trauma or a loss may lead to the onset of bipolar disorder in someone who is more susceptible.
  • Genetic factors – People who have family members who also have bipolar disorder may be more susceptible to this condition.
  • Biological factors – People with bipolar disorder may have hormone or neurotransmitter imbalances in their brains that could play a key role in their condition.

What are the Different Types of Bipolar Disorder?

There are three main types of bipolar disorder that people can suffer from. They are:

Bipolar I Disorder

When a person has bipolar I disorder, it means that they have manic episodes that last seven days or longer. In some cases, these episodes may require the person to enter into the hospital to get more intensive treatment. These individuals may or may not also have major depressive episodes that last two weeks or longer.

Bipolar II Disorder

People with bipolar II disorder experience both manic episodes and depressive episodes. Their mania is less severe than in bipolar I. The two different types of episodes may alternate and each last for several weeks or months at a time.

Cyclothymic Disorder

This is also called cyclothymia. People with this condition experience symptoms of hypomania and depression that last for at least two years or longer.

What Types of Drugs do People with Bipolar Disorder Tend to Gravitate Toward?

What Types of Drugs do People with Bipolar Disorder Tend to Gravitate Toward?

A person who has untreated bipolar disorder may choose different drugs based on the type of episode they are currently having. When they in a depressive phase, they may want to use stimulant drugs, such as cocaine, meth or prescription stimulants. When they are in a manic phase, they may prefer depressive drugs, such as marijuana or opioids.

Excessive alcohol use is common in both types of episodes. Even though alcohol is a depressant drug, it can effectively numb the emotional pain of bipolar disorder for a short time.

Getting Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Bipolar Disorder and Addiction

It is not enough for people with bipolar disorder and substance abuse problems to only get help for their addictions. Their co-occurring disorder is likely to be related, and it is either a product of their condition or one of the main reasons behind it. Because of this correlation, it is important to treat both at the same time. This is done through dual diagnosis treatment.

Dual diagnosis treatment acknowledges the fact that unless the co-occurring disorder is properly addressed, a relapse is very likely. In the case of someone with bipolar disorder, once their symptoms are managed correctly through medication and therapy, they have less of a reason to use drugs and/or alcohol.

Not all drug and alcohol rehab centers offer treatment for co-occurring disorders like bipolar disorder. Those that do not often find that their clients end up relapsing because the root cause of their addictions were ignored or overlooked.

Find Out More About Bipolar Disorder, Addiction and Ways to Get Treatment for Recovery

At Peace Valley Recovery, we carefully assess each of our clients for any mental health issues, including bipolar disorder. This mental health condition is very common, and we work with many people who have it as well as a drug or alcohol addiction. We understand the importance of treating both conditions at the same time to produce a much better long-term outcome.

Do you suspect that you have bipolar disorder, or have you been diagnosed with it in the past? If you also abuse drugs and alcohol, getting the right treatment for co-occurring disorders can help you.

Please contact us today to learn what your next steps should be.