Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse: How Often Do They Co-occur?

Bipolar Disorder and substance abuse co-occur so frequently that many people with Bipolar Disorder, when diagnosed, also get tested for substance abuse. But does one cause the other or are they so intertwined that they just naturally occur together? To try to answer these, let’s take a look at each disorder in turn.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder is a manic-depressive psychiatric disorder that can result in the following:

  • Violent mood swings that can cause emotional outbursts
  • Periods of mania, wherein people have heightened opinions of themselves, energy, and productivity
  • Periods of depression that can be so severe they lead to suicidal thoughts
  • Compulsive behaviors such as spending sprees and bouts of adultery

Bipolar Disorder is mostly known for erratic mood swings that can cause someone to experience bouts of mania one day and severe depression the next. It’s not entirely certain what causes Bipolar Disorder, but researchers believe it’s genetic in nature.

What Is Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse can result in an unhealthy dependence on drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse can lead to a whole host of problems, including the following:

  • Failure to meet obligations, including social, work, or family needs
  • Problems with the law
  • Interpersonal conflicts with friends or family members

These substances can range from alcohol to harder drugs like cocaine and crystal meth. Abuse of these substances can lead to a dependence on them, which can cause severe health and mental problems in addition to the above problems. Substance dependency can require professional substance abuse treatment to overcome.

How Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse Co-occur

The mood swings experienced by people with Bipolar Disorder are often uncomfortable and can be painful. People with Bipolar Disorder often turn to drugs and alcohol to nullify the pain associated with their mood swings and the feelings associated with them. In fact, Bipolar Disorder and substance abuse have a rate of co-occurrence of 56 percent, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Scientists have tried to see if Bipolar Disorder is the cause of substance abuse in people with both disorders, or if substance abuse triggers Bipolar Disorder. Research has found both to be the case, but with interesting results.

According to studies, people who were alcoholics, for example, before they were aware that they had Bipolar Disorder apparently had fewer affective episodes and mood swings, and recovered from them more quickly. People whose Bipolar Disorder preceded their substance abuse, however, had more issues with alcoholism. It’s also been shown that people who suffer from both Bipolar Disorder and substance abuse have an easier time falling back into manic behavior, even after treatment.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

While this may seem like a chicken and egg problem, the fact remains that Bipolar Disorder and substance abuse do go hand in hand in a majority of patients. Dual diagnosis treatment for both disorders through psychotherapy, psychopharmacology, and other methods can be effective. But the patient and those who care about them also need to be vigilant in watching their behavior to make sure they don’t fall back into patterns of substance abuse that could make their Bipolar Disorder even worse.

If you or someone you care about has Bipolar Disorder and substance abuse, it’s urged that help is sought immediately. Trained professionals at a dual diagnosis treatment center can help develop an individualized treatment plan for a full recovery from both disorders.

Tags: Bipolar Disorder, co-occurring disorders, dual diagnosis treatment, substance abuse

One Response to “Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse: How Often Do They Co-occur?”

  1. christy Apr, 06 2011 at 9:40 am #

    well my friend deals with subjeck. I am in recovery but has taken 5 years to clear the cloud that was getting me down which doctors call bipolar . you can not be on mind altering subtances and expect a health way off copeing with life . one thing as a tim e medcation only makes things worse good luck with this love christy mcmullen

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