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Bipolar Disorder and Addiction

Alcohol is the most widely used means of self-medication for people with bipolar disorder, followed closely by stimulant drugs such as ice.

Bipolar Disorder and addiction commonly co-occur.

Persons suffering from bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression) experience an extreme cycle of mood swings ranging from debilitating depression to states of mania (extreme elation) or hypomania (less extreme elation).

The duration of each phase can vary dramatically and, deceptively, individuals between episodes will appear completely fine.

Bipolar disorder affects 1 in 100 Australians, yet the average time span between the first experience of bipolar symptoms and diagnosis is estimated at 12.5 years.

This huge gap can be explained by the often extended rest periods between episodes which lead sufferers to believe that their symptoms are gone for good.

Additionally, individuals experiencing bipolar disorder are unlikely to seek help while riding on the high of a manic episode and are often too dejected to do so when in the grasp of depression.

Sufferers of bipolar disorder are at heightened risk of experiencing difficulties in personal relationships, economic instability and accidental injuries.

Over 50% of bipolar individuals will develop an alcohol and/or drug problem.

How do bipolar disorder and addiction relate?

As with most mental health issues, the foremost reason for  bipolar disorder and addiction to drugs and/or alcohol is self-medication.

During depressive episodes, bipolar individuals often become desperate to relief their extreme feelings of hopelessness, anxiety and stress.

Alcohol is the most widely used means of self-medication for those with bipolar disorder, followed closely by stimulant drugs (i.e. methamphetamines/ice).

Neither substance is conducive to the already fragile mental state experienced during depressive episodes and will likely worsen the symptoms.

However, even during episodes of mania or hypomania substance abuse is prevalent.

Mania and hypomania can manifest as feelings of grandiosity and inflated self-esteem – sufferers often feel so amazing that they are tempted to go out and have a grand time without any sense of self-preservation.

Again, excessive drinking is the most common outlet for those experiencing manic episodes, with cocaine coming in as a close second.

Unfortunately, using drugs or alcohol to enhance the manic high will only exacerbate the severity of the depression following in its wake.

How important is Dual Treatment?

Dual treatment, also often referred to as integrated treatment, is imperative for persons with a Dual Diagnosis of addiction and bipolar disorder.

If either condition is ignored or neglected in the treatment process, the risk of relapse increases significantly.

Whether the substance abuse is a response to the symptoms of bipolar disorder or has caused the onset of the condition, neither issue can be dealt with in isolation.

In order to equip a client with coping strategies that will allow them to identify triggers for their substance abuse in the future and teach them how to recognise early warning signs of an impending bipolar episode, a comprehensive treatment plan must be established.

If the co-occurring disorders are appropriately addressed during treatment, the chances for recovery and a successful re-entry into a life worth living are remarkably high.

Find out more

Mental Health and Addiction
Diagnosing Mental Health Disorders
Common Co-Occurring Disorders
Mental Health Effects of Ice
Are Mental Health and Addiction Connected?

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