Select Page

Can Bipolar Disorder and Addiction be Related?

by | Last updated Oct 2, 2020 at 1:49PM | Published on Apr 28, 2020 | Rehab Programs


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

Exhausted man with cup of coffee at homeCo-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. 

Therapist Giving AdviceTreatment 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.

Lighthouse Editorial Team

Lighthouse Editorial Team

Our editorial team includes content experts that contribute to Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s blog. Editors and medical experts review our blogs for accuracy and relevance. We consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA and NIDA to provide you with the most comprehensive addiction-related content.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

Related Articles

Dual Diagnosis Treatment – What to Expect

Dual Diagnosis Treatment – What to Expect

In many ways, a dual diagnosis is the most common diagnosis in addiction treatment centers. Yet, most of the time, people are unaware of their conditions. Not to mention that when substance abuse and mental illness co-occur, it makes the diagnosis even more...

What Are The Most Common Dual Diagnosis?

What Are The Most Common Dual Diagnosis?

Roughly 38% of the 20.3 million adults with a substance use disorder have a mental illness. Likewise, 18% of people with mental illness also have a substance use disorder. The way drugs interact with our brain makes these co-occurring disorders inevitable. When...

Need Help? Start here!

find your insurance sidebar

Find Your Insurance

*Lighthouse Recovery Institute is not affiliated with any insurance.

Get Help During COVID-19

Within days, you can get clean and sober, start therapy, join a support group, and learn ways to manage your cravings.

Ready to Start? We're here for you.