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bipolar disorder and addiction

Can Bipolar Disorder and Addiction be Related?

Bipolar disorder is an extremely devastating psychological disorder, typically characterized by intense and sudden shifts in mood, behavior, or energy levels. The link between bipolar disorder and substance dependency isn’t new. Did you know that bipolar disorder and addiction are related? Nearly 60% of those struggling with bipolar disorder have a substance abuse problem. 

What’s a Bipolar Disorder?

Once known as “manic depression,” the real extent of bipolar disorder is not exact. Bipolar disorder causes intense mood swings that rapidly change from highs to lows.

Generally, the exact cause of this mood disorder remains unknown, but genetics, environment, and altered brain structure may play a role. Someone with bipolar disorder doesn’t necessarily change personalities. They experience either manic or depressive episodes that can last weeks, sometimes months. 

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

One of the biggest challenges with diagnosing bipolar disorder is pinpointing the symptoms. These can change drastically from person to person. Some people might experience only manic episodes, while others stay within depressive episodes, making diagnosis difficult. Not to mention, those who also struggle with addiction will likely experience heightened symptoms. 

Manic Episode Symptoms

  • Hyperactivity
  • Inflated sense of self-confidence
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Extreme talkativeness
  • Racing thoughts
  • Short attention span
  • Risky behavior
  • Preoccupation with a specific goal

Depressive Episode Symptoms

  • Feeling depressed or hopeless most of the day
  • Having a sense of worthlessness
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia or feeling the need to oversleep
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in once enjoyable activities
  • Feeling fatigued nearly every day
  • Excessive feelings of guilt
  • Lack of concentration
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Co-occurring Bipolar Disorder and Addiction

Although substance abuse isn’t the sole cause of the bipolar disorder, it certainly plays a role. Frequent drug use creates physical changes in the brain’s structure and chemistry. Drugs can also rewire various brain parts that affect mood and behavior, which can lead to bipolar disorder. 

Many with an untreated bipolar disorder start using drugs or alcohol to manage uncomfortable and disruptive symptoms. Those who suffer from bipolar will frequently experience an array of symptoms such as depression, sleeplessness, anxiety, and physical pain. 

Signs of a Co-Occurring Disorder

When someone struggles with a bipolar disorder and addiction, they’ll showcase some telling signs about their dual diagnosis. Symptoms of a co-occurring disorder vary significantly between individuals, but often include:

  • Sudden change in general behavior
  • Difficulty managing daily tasks and responsibilities
  • Avoiding events or social activities
  • Neglecting health and hygiene
  • Disillusioned thinking or cognitive impairments
  • Refusal to seek or comply with treatment
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Erratic and impulsive behaviors
  • Issues managing finances
  • Poor performance at school or work

What’s Dual Diagnosis?

Diagnosing bipolar disorder in someone with an addiction is challenging. Because many bipolar disorder symptoms mirror those of drug abuse and addiction, it can be complex to draw an accurate diagnosis. To distinguish between the conditions, doctors run a series of tests, including a psychological and physical evaluation.

Dual diagnosis treatment generally ensures that patients receive an integrated treatment plan that looks at both disorders as interconnected. Not treating both mental illnesses and substance use disorder simultaneously increases the risk of relapse and other side effects.

Diagnosis Tests for Bipolar Disorder

Psychological Evaluation: We analyze the patient’s thoughts and feelings, looking for evidence of manic or depressive behavior. 

Physical Examination: At this point, doctors look for any physical trigger that might cause imbalances in the brain. We analyze hormones, brain structure, responses, and more. 

Mood Charts: These can help doctors determine the frequency and length of bipolar episodes. Understanding how long these episodes occur can help with an accurate diagnosis. 

Comparisons: Because there’s no single cause for bipolar disorder, doctors compare symptoms against other conditions. It’s also important to know if these episodes are the response of substance abuse or if there are other elements in play. 

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis Disorders

It’s essential for patients struggling with a bipolar disorder and addiction to seek treatment at facilities with dual diagnosis treatment programs

Inpatient Treatment Programs

In the case of a dual diagnosis, an inpatient treatment program that offers a structured and safe environment is best. When treating bipolar disorder, having mental health professionals as part of the treatment program is paramount. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Part of the treatment for a bipolar disorder and addiction will most likely include CBT. Through this form of therapy, patients face their thoughts and feelings, both for their bipolar disorder and struggles as an addict. By understanding what triggers a manic and depressive episode, addicted people with bipolar disorder can better grasp their actions. Additionally, finding a way to control these emotions will help them prepare for craving episodes or withdrawal symptoms from the addiction. 


In some cases, medications can help people with bipolar disorder. Addiction medications can additionally help ease withdrawal symptoms and control some of the mood shifts from bipolar disorder. While drugs can offer balance, they come at a high price for recovering addicts. Again, inpatient programs are the best course of action for managing this type of dual diagnosis. 

People with bipolar disorder might see progress with Benzodiazepines, Lithium, and Antipsychotics. However, benzos addictive risk factor makes prescription of these medications difficult, which is why doctors only prescribe these under strict rules and controls. 

Getting Help for Bipolar Dual Diagnosis

Understanding how bipolar disorder and drug addiction are related can help make the recovery process significantly more manageable. Struggling with a mental health condition is challenging enough, let alone do so with addiction. It’s easier to diagnose an addiction than bipolar disorder.

Many develop addictions to drugs and alcohol before being diagnosed with a mental illness. Others become addicted after struggling with their mental health. Whichever happened first, having a tailored treatment plan that targets them simultaneously is vital. 

At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our therapists have expertise in making a dual diagnosis. We combine addiction treatment with mental health assistance. If you think there’s something more to your or your loved ones’ addiction, consult with a dual diagnosis expert. Once you’re settled, our therapists will create a treatment plan that includes group and private therapy sessions, medications, activities, and more. 

Yes, a dual diagnosis can be scary and more complex to treat. Together, we can help you walk the path towards recovery and find the best plan to help you feel better. Don’t hesitate to reach out for more information on our inpatient treatment programs and our dual diagnosis process.

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