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Why do People with Bipolar Disorder Binge Drink?

Binge Drinking with Bipolar DisorderBipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by unusual shifts in energy level and mood. Those with this mental health condition experience moods that range from extremely elevated and energetic, which are known as manic episodes, to extremely low or depressive moods.

It’s very common for people with bipolar disorder to misuse mind-altering substances including alcohol. There are several reasons there’s such a strong relationship between bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder.

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Attempting to Self-Medicate Extremes in Mood

It can be hard to live with the extremes in mood and energy level that define bipolar disorder. When a person with bipolar disorder picks up alcohol, they often feel a sense of relief from the intensity of very high or very low emotions. Mood swings can make a person feel out of control. Alcohol may seem to help provide a sense of control, at least at first.

Alcohol has an impact on both mania and depression. It can calm nervousness and anxiety, and binge drinking in particular can give a quick lift in mood to a person with bipolar who is experiencing a depressive episode. People with bipolar often enjoy the energy and exhilaration that goes with mania, and binge drinking can intensify these feelings, at least temporarily. Heightened mania and a sense of relaxation are some of the reasons that people with bipolar disorder binge drink.

Bipolar Disorder and Medication

When a person with bipolar disorder is first diagnosed, it may take some time for the doctor to find a medication that’s effective in controlling all the symptoms of this condition. A sense of frustration at still feeling out of control even while in treatment can cause a person to look for another way to relieve symptoms.

Bipolar disorder is associated with impulsive and risk-taking behaviors such as drug and alcohol use, shopping sprees and driving under the influence. It’s extremely important for a person with bipolar disorder to stay on their medication. Skipping doses of bipolar medication or stopping medication altogether can cause an increase in symptoms, which often include risky or dangerous behaviors. Therapy can help someone with bipolar better understand their diagnosis, including the relationship between medication and recovery.

Which Came First – the Alcoholism or the Bipolar?

It’s not always clear whether a person with bipolar disorder turned to alcohol because of unmanageable moods, or whether chemical changes in the brain caused by drinking too much may have set off bipolar disorder. Symptoms of bipolar disorder sometimes first become apparent after a person withdraws from alcohol.

Both bipolar disorder and alcoholism can cause changes in the brain, and bipolar disorder and alcohol misuse or withdrawal may affect the same neurotransmitters in the brain. This means that bipolar and substance use disorder may each trigger symptoms of the other.

Treating Co-Occurring Conditions

Bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder are often treated separately, but when an individual has both conditions it’s best to treat these co-occurring conditions at the same time. Treating one but not the other is likely to cause symptoms of the other to intensify. Having both conditions at the same time without treatment can increase symptoms such as hopelessness, mood swings and out-of-control behavior.

Treatment of co-occurring disorders is done by using a team of treatment professionals who work together to treat the different aspects of both conditions. Initial treatment is sometimes done on an inpatient basis. Treatment with medication, therapy, and support groups will continue to be ongoing after inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation has been completed.

It’s important for anyone who has both bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder to stay in close contact with their doctor or mental health professionals and let someone know when the current treatment approach doesn’t seem to be working. Alcohol use disorder and bipolar disorder are both treatable conditions, and long-term continuous treatment can help keep symptoms under control.

If you or a loved one are struggling with bipolar disorder and binge drinking, please call us at (866) 339-3544 or submit the form below to learn more about our treatment programs in Los Angeles.

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