Bipolar Disorder and Chemical Dependency

Bipolar disorder, which was once commonly referred to as manic depression, is a serious mental illness, characterized by abrupt and severe shifts in energy levels, behavioral patterns, and mood. Individuals who are afflicted with bipolar disorder tend to have a difficult time maintaining consistency within their own lives, and have been known to suffer interpersonal problems, issues in their professional lives, and economic instability. Those with bipolar disorder are also significantly more likely to develop issues related to drug and alcohol abuse. In fact, it was estimated by American Journal of Managed Care that over 56 percent of individuals who struggle with bipolar disorder also struggled with a chemical addiction at one point in their lives. Alcohol was found to be the most commonly abuse substance amongst bipolar individuals, with 46 percent of the addicted group having grappled alcoholism – however, drug abuse was not far behind, as 41 percent of the group members had experienced a severe addiction to drugs (ranging from opiates such as heroin and painkillers to methamphetamine and cocaine).

The Relationship Between Addiction and Bipolar Disorder

There is no definitive explanation for the high rates of substance abuse and dependency amongst individuals who struggle with bipolar disorder. One of the most likely reasons is that those with undiagnosed and untreated mental disorders tend to self-medicate in order to alleviate troublesome mental, emotional, and physical symptoms. The symptoms of bipolar disorder include sleeplessness, depression, anxiety, and physical pain, and can be exceptionally difficult to withstand without the proper medication and therapeutic guidance. Many bipolar individuals will turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of temporarily alleviating their intense discomfort. However, the National Institute of Mental Health notes that using drugs and drinking is very likely to trigger manic or depressed moods in individuals struggling with bipolar disorder, leading to an ultimate exacerbation of symptoms.

Age, Gender, and Brain Chemistry

It has also been concluded that age and gender may play a role in the propensity for drug and alcohol abuse in bipolar individuals. An article published in the psychiatric journal Bipolar Disorder (and numerous other studies conducted over the past several decades), substance abuse is much more prevalent amongst members of the male portion of the population. Young men in particular are more likely to turn to self-destructive behavioral patterns and engage in high-risk behavior, which leaves them more susceptible to drug abuse. Finally, researchers believe that brain chemistry plays a large role in the relationship between bipolar disorder and addiction. Those afflicted with bipolar disorder often have abnormal levels of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine; chemicals that promote healthy stress responses, the ability to sleep, appetite, and metabolism. These chemicals are also directly linked to the regulation of mood and emotion. Bipolar individuals may be subconsciously tempted to turn to drugs and alcohol to help regulate their abnormal moods and emotions. However, when one uses chemical substances excessively, the levels of these chemicals and their functioning within the brain is further affected, worsening the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Recovering from Co-Occurring Conditions

There are four major types of mood episode that characterize bipolar disorder: mania, hypomania, depression, and mixed episodes. From time-to-time, we all feel above-average levels of elation and sadness. But for the bipolar individual, these highs and lows are uncontrollable, overwhelming, and potentially devastating. In the past, bipolar disorder was always treated separately from chemical dependency – the link between the two disorders was still relatively unknown, and most drug and alcohol rehabs lacked strong psychiatric tracks. Nowadays, however, finding a treatment center that will focus on both addiction and mental illness is far easier. We at Next Chapter treat bipolar disorder as a primary disorder, and have ample experience treating men who suffer from co-occurring disorders. Mental health and addiction are very often closely linked, and our program focuses on a comprehensive continuum of care that effectively covers both disorders.