- About 56% of people with bipolar who were surveyed in a national study reported experiencing alcohol or drug addiction during some period in their lives.
- About 46% of that group reported abusing alcohol or had an alcohol addiction.
- Approximately 41% had abused drugs or were addicted to one or more drugs.
How Do Bipolar Disorder and Addiction Overlap?There is no simple explanation for the high rate of substance use and physical dependence among those with bipolar disorder. One reason for may be that a large percentage of individuals with bipolar attempt to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to dull the painful symptoms of their disorder. About 25% of adults with a mental illness also report having a co-occurring substance use disorder. Symptoms of bipolar disorder such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia are so distressing that many people will resort to the use of drugs and alcohol as a means to counteract the discomfort, if only for a brief period. Conversely, drinking and using drugs may trigger depression or manic moods in a person with bipolar disorder. Researchers believe that brain chemistry may affect both bipolar disorder and a person’s propensity to abuse substances. People with bipolar disorder often have irregular levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Critically, these chemicals affect essential functions such as appetite, metabolism, sleep, mood, emotions, and the body’s response to stress. Excessive use of drugs or alcohol can disrupt the way in which the brain processes certain chemicals, causing emotional instability, shifting levels of energy, and depression. Moreover, people with bipolar disorder may resort to the use of drugs or alcohol out of the desire to balance their moods. But substance abuse has the opposite effect, unfortunately, and frequently makes the symptoms of bipolar disorder more severe.
Signs of Bipolar DisorderEveryone occasionally encounters periods of intense sadness, euphoria, hostility or depression. But for someone with bipolar disorder, these episodes are all-encompassing and uncontrollable. Four main types of mood episodes mark bipolar disorder: mania, hypomania, depression and mixed episodes. A unique assortment of symptoms characterizes each of these types. Mania Mania is the “high” point of the mood spectrum for people with bipolar disorder. Symptoms may include the following:
Hypomania Symptoms are comparable to those that manifest during manic behavior but are less severe. A person who experiences hypomania is usually capable of managing their daily lives but experience a higher than normal level of joy, irritability or energy. They may feel as if they are capable of taking on more responsibility, or that less sleep is required. Furthermore, hypomanic individuals may become more talkative or social and are more likely to engage in risky or impulsive behavior. Hypomanic episodes can be extremely productive for some, and because psychotic symptoms do not usually occur in hypomania, it might not be evident to others than this condition can still be a problem. Depression Depression is the “low” point of the bipolar spectrum and is characterized by an emotional state of sadness, tearfulness, and hopelessness. These depressive episodes may persist for days or weeks, depending on the person’s mood cycle. These periods are particularly dangerous for those who suffer through them, as they increase the risk of self-injury and suicide – even more so if the individual are concurrently abusing drugs and alcohol. When a person is experiencing depression, he or she may encounter the following symptoms:
- Feelings of grandeur
- Thinking and talking rapidly
- Moments of both considerable optimism and profound pessimism
- Impaired judgment and irrational behavior
- Delusions and hallucinations
Mixed Episodes The symptoms of bipolar disorder aren’t always precisely defined. In a mixed episode, behaviors tend to reflect a combination of both mania and depression. For example, the person may have suicidal ideations and a loss of interest in everyday activities, combined with racing or intrusive thoughts, rapid speech, and sleep deprivation. The person may feel compelled to drink alcohol or use drugs in an attempt to stabilize unpredictable mood shifts, but this is only a momentary fix that won’t provide lasting relief. To achieve a long-lasting recovery, professional treatment is needed to help balance moods as a person deals with the cravings and harmful impulses that hallmark addiction.
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Changes in appetite
- Feelings of hopelessness and despair
- Lack of interest in activities one once enjoyed
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors