How Bipolar Disorder Can Lead To Addiction – And The Complexity Of Treating Both

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Bipolar disorder is a serious mental condition that can disable those who suffer from it. Once referred to as manic depression, bipolar disorder causes sudden and intense mood swings, behavioral changes and energy surges.

These symptoms can severely disrupt a person’s life, leading to emotional and mental distress. This, in turn, lends itself to substance abuse and addiction. Studies also show that bipolar patients have more physiological or biological tendencies toward substance abuse than patients with other mental illnesses have. Furthermore, the risk factors don’t end there.

Resisting The Urge To Self-Medicate

Bipolar patients suffer insomnia, anxiety, societal pressures, pain and emotional issues. Individuals with bipolar disorder often have relationship issues and statistically have a higher rate of accidental injuries and suicide than other people have.

People with bipolar disorder are more inclined to develop addiction to drugs or alcohol as an escape from the physical, emotional and mental strain of the condition. According to the American Journal of Managed Care, about 56 percent of bipolar individuals battled drug or alcohol addiction at least once in their lifetime.

Alcohol abuse is more common than drug abuse among people with bipolar disorder, but these individuals can also get addicted to prescription pain medications not prescribed by a doctor. Soon, these patients become trapped in a cycle of using substances to combat the effects of the illness, feeling worse and then using again.

The Physiology Of Bipolar Disorder

Researchers are still investigating why bipolar patients have a higher rate of addiction than other mental health patients do, but experts believe it may have something to do with preexisting biological or physiological problems. These issues increase a patient’s likelihood of developing bipolar disorder and turning to drugs or alcohol to cope.

Patients with a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and substance use disorder have a long road to recovery. It begins with resisting the urge to self-medicate – the main precursor to a bipolar patient’s addiction.

Patients believe taking a substance will relieve the effects of bipolar disorder, but in reality, many substances’ side effects resemble the disorder, making the patient feel worse and complicating recovery. If patients can resist the urge to self-medicate, they can begin to seek healthy treatment avenues for bipolar disorders.

Potential Treatment Solutions For Bipolar Patients

While research continues, much is still unknown about the relationship between bipolar disorder and addiction. Studies do point to the need for a new treatment for bipolar disorder. The current most common treatment is lithium, but drug abusers do not typically respond well to lithium treatment.

Researchers are considering a few alternatives after limited drug studies:

  • Depakote: Another common treatment for bipolar disorder, especially during the manic phase, Depakote, when combined with lithium, decreased the number of heavy drinking days for patients with a dual diagnosis. However, studies also show the positive effects faded after six months.
  • Carbamazepine: This anti-convulsion drug has a varied history when used for cocaine dependency. It did appear to hinder cocaine use in one study of bipolar patients.
  • Seroquel: A controversial schizophrenia drug, Seroquel seems to lessen the symptoms of depression in patients with bipolar disorder.
  • Revia: This drug showed a small decrease in the number of drinking days when used on alcoholic patients with bipolar disorder in a 12-week study.

The relationship between bipolar disorder and addiction is complex and multifaceted. While alternative drugs show promise in certain studies, the scientific world has yet to see a real breakthrough in treating bipolar patients with addictions.

Integrated group therapy with a holistic approach specifically tailored to dual diagnosis patients may hold the answer. But, as of today, more research is necessary to know for sure the best way to treat these patients.

Bipolar Disorder Can Lead To Addiction: How To Break The Cycle

Bipolar patients typically have abnormal levels of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. These chemicals change the body’s response to stress and affect mood and emotion. Combining the best treatment for bipolar disorder and for addiction may address the brain chemistry that is likely the source of both issues.

Currently, treatment centers urge bipolar disorder patients to seek other ways to reduce the effects and triggers of the condition, such as natural therapies and healthy exercise. Finding a way to cope that doesn’t involve substances would substantially decrease the number of bipolar patients with addictions.

Dual diagnosis rehabilitation programs run by specially trained mental health professionals and addiction experts – such as those at Serenity at Summit – offer what is now the best care for patients with bipolar disorder and addiction.