Even though they are not always suggestive of each other, a relatively large percentage of individuals affected by bipolar disorder also engage in substance abuse. In fact, a co-existing substance use disorder is so common that many health professionals perform routine addiction screenings for those who have been diagnosed as having a bipolar condition.
Several subtypes of bipolar disorder exist that include a wide variety of symptoms and severity. Understanding the different forms of bipolar disorders and their common links to addiction is crucial for persons living with this condition and those they love.
The Bipolar Disorder Spectrum
Bipolar disorder is characterized by dramatic changes in mood that can be dramatic. On the one hand, individuals may experience depression, and they feel low, depressed, and lethargic. Conversely, at some point, these people will exhibit a manic mood in which they feel happy, confident, powerful, and energetic.
People affected by bipolar disorder tend to experience one or both of these moods without any specific external instigation. Experts can diagnose people who have these marked mood shifts as bipolar, but there are several ways that the disorder can present. Many experts posit that bipolar disorder exists on a spectrum. Moreover, an individual might have one, a few, many, or all potential symptoms associated with the condition.
Bipolar I is a disorder that exists on one end of the spectrum. Only about 1 percent of the population has this form of bipolar disorder, and symptoms present as what is generally known as “classic.” Individuals who experience bipolar disorder alternate between the highest highs and the lowest lows emotionally on a routine basis. During a manic episode, they might exhibit the following behaviors:
- Talking rapidly, which is challenging for others to understand
- Spending copious amounts of money
- Expressing delusional beliefs (e.g., delusions of grandeur)
- Refusing or being unable to sleep
- Having increased interest in engaging in sexual encounters
This same individual might then experience bouts of extreme depression in which life doesn’t feel worth the effort. They might skip work or school or find it challenging to socialize with others or enact decisions. They can appear as though they are in a pit of despair and at the lowest point in their lives.
Substance abuse can play a substantial role in the life of a person who has bipolar I disorder. For those who have a mental health condition just as this, the use of substances might make psycho-emotional dysfunction a bit easier to endure.
This form of bipolar disorder also tends to make life difficult, but persons who experience it aren’t usually affected by full manic episodes. Individuals with this type of bipolar condition do cycle from one mood to another. However, they are much less likely to experience energy and feelings of happiness and confidence frequently seen with bipolar disorder I.
Instead, they oscillate from mild dysphoric moments, in which they feel just a little depressed, to moments of intense gloom. Persons with bipolar II face the highest risk of suicide among individuals on the spectrum because their depression seems like it will never improve significantly.
Furthermore, these persons may also be highly susceptible to drug abuse. They may seek the use of euphoric drugs to feel some form of happiness or use stimulant drugs to boost energy levels so they can get through the day while despite feeling depressed.
Cyclothymia is a form of bipolar disorder that falls on the other end of the spectrum of bipolar I. It is hallmarked by the same effects of cycling between mania and depression. Still, the highs and lows are typically less intense—this is a relatively rare mood disorder and can cause sudden mood changes that affected individuals might find difficult to control. The main difference is that they generally do not encounter extreme forms of either mood seen in bipolar I.
These persons may also try their hand at self-medication with intoxicating substances in an attempt to regulate the mood swings they’re experiencing. Unfortunately, cyclothymia tends to get worse over time if not medically addressed, and those who are using drugs or alcohol tend to be less likely to get treatment. As a result, their substance abuse can lead to a more severe type of bipolar disorder.
Not Otherwise Specified (NOS)
This form of bipolar disorder can fall anywhere on the spectrum as it applies to those who have a group of signs and symptoms that don’t fit nicely into diagnostic criteria. Individuals with this type of bipolar disorder might experience manic episodes and have little no depression or may encounter only a few manic or depression symptoms. Often, their bouts do not present obviously enough to warrant a formal diagnosis.
It can be challenging for affected persons to live with NOS bipolar disorder, as many find it daunting to find appropriate care. Because their symptoms don’t clearly fit other categories, they may not receive the medical support or therapies needed for healing. Thus, it’s not unusual for individuals with NOS to self-medicate with substances, which can provoke an increase in symptoms and facilitate a more severe form of the disorder.
Alternating Moods and Rapid Cycling
While each person who has bipolar disorder experiences significant mood shifts, individuals who have a rapid cycling form can switch from one mood to another extremely fast—they may wake up in the morning feeling tired and depressed and experience mania in just hours.
Persons who must deal with these unexpected mood shifts can be extremely disabled by their condition, being completely unaware of what mood may follow next and, as a result, experience anxiety and tension. Those with rapid cycling bipolar may be at an increased risk for substance abuse, dependence, and full-blown addiction as they experience feelings of desperation and try to make the emotions subside.
Treatment for Addiction and Bipolar Disorder
While individuals often use drugs because they attempt to reduce their symptoms, substance abuse can lead to the dysfunction that leads to bipolar disorder becoming much worse. Fortunately, however, specialized treatment for co-occurring disorders can make a huge difference in a person’s life. To begin, a comprehensive assessment by health professionals that includes an in-depth discussion about the individual’s substance use will be undertaken.
Medical detox is typically next and is characterized by clearing the body of toxic substances in a safe and controlled environment. Once detox is complete, health providers may administer medications to stabilize mood and mitigate bipolar symptoms.
Behavioral therapy is another essential component of treatment. Here, the individual works with a therapist to understand their motives for using drugs and potential triggers for bipolar shifts. Patients may work in a one-on-one setting and also in groups where they can learn from peers who also experience bipolar disorder.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers specialize in treatments for mental health conditions, particularly those worsened by addiction. We believe that each individual who suffers from these issues can recover and that an improved state of health can be achieved through psychotherapy, counseling, support groups, mindfulness therapy, and more.