bipolar and addiction

Bipolar Disorder and Addiction

Bipolar disorder is a major cause of addiction. Bipolar often consists of periods of depression and mania as well as periods of stability. Often, people who have bipolar are misdiagnosed as having depression until a major manic episode occurs. There are four types of bipolar disorder.

  • Bipolar One Disorder

In bipolar one, there are manic episodes that can last for days during which the person may have to be hospitalized. Depressive episodes often occur as well and last for two weeks on average. Mixed states can also occur. Mixed states are when depression and mania occur together at the same time.

  • Bipolar Two Disorder

In bipolar two, there are hypomanic and depressive episodes but they are not as severe as the episodes in bipolar one. Hypomania is a less extreme version of mania. 

  • Cyclothymic Disorder (also called cyclothymia)

In cyclothymia, the phases of bipolar depression can last for over two years. However, these highs and lows do not meet the diagnostic criteria for classically defined hypomania and depressive episodes. 

  • Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders

This category is for any bipolar disorders that someone experiences that do not fit into the first three categories. Every individual is unique. There is no way to create a separate diagnosis for every variant of bipolar. This does not mean that your doctor will not be able to treat you. All that it means is that you do not fit into the three above descriptions. You can still be properly medicated and start your road to recovery. 

What are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

Some of the terms used when talking about bipolar disorder are different than terms in other conditions.

  • Mania

Mania is a condition when someone loses all restraint. They often:

  • Have extremely high self-esteem
  • Feel a decreased need for sleep, getting sometimes less than three hours in a day
  • Become extremely talkative
  • Pay attention to and focus on small or irrelevant details
  • Get involved in goal-directed activity, sometimes not stopping until they get what they want
  • Have excessive pursuit of pleasurable experiences, going as far as to start taking drugs, having risky/unprotected sex, going on gambling sprees, draining their savings account on shopping sprees 
  • Make poor decisions
  • Depression

Depression does not mean that someone is simply sad. The signs of depression in bipolar are:

  • Feeling sad, empty, and/or hopeless
  • Loss of pleasure in many or all activities
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain without the person trying to change their weight
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Restlessness or slowed behavior
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Inability to think or concentrate
  • Decreased ability to concentrate or indecisiveness
  • Thinking about, planning, or attempting suicide
  • Mixed states

A mixed state is when someone with bipolar disorder experiences both depression and mania at the same time. 

Why are the Symptoms of Bipolar Depression not Consistent?

Many of these symptoms seem to contradict each other. Depression affects everyone differently and one of the important things to look for is any change in the person’s moods. Some people can be bipolar their whole lives and their mania and depression might be confused as simply a part of their personality. This often encourages the person the abuse drugs like alcohol because they help the person feel “normal”. 

The Negative Effects of Mania

Sometimes people will come out of a manic phase and be unable to remember where they were or even what they did. A bipolar person’s actions during manic stages have ended marriages, friendships, and often get people in trouble with the law. 

Living With Bipolar Depression

During a depressive stage, a person might go as far as planning or attempting suicide in addition to experiencing other depressive symptoms. Sometimes a person will drink to try to cope with these feelings. This can be dangerous if the person is on medication. Some medications, like lithium, can be deadly if the person drinks alcohol while using these medications.

Drugs take time to get out of a person’s system. A person cannot simply skip a dose of lithium one night and then drink. The drug will still be in your system and your alcohol use can still be deadly. 

Medication can greatly help someone with bipolar. Unfortunately taking drugs like heroin or drinking while taking bipolar medication can be deadly. This is why it is important to get help for your bipolar disorder while getting help for your addiction disorder.

Only treating bipolar disorder will not fix the addiction disorder on its own. By the time an addiction forms, it has rewired your brain to not only be mentally addicted to the substance(s) being abused, but it has changed your body so that you are physically dependent on them. 

Can I go to Drug Rehabilitation and Not Tell Them I am Bipolar?

You cannot treat your addiction without treating your bipolar disorder at the same time. If someone with bipolar disorder completes addiction treatment for substances without being treated for their bipolar disorder, they will likely relapse. This is because the driving forces that helped create the addiction, the pain and euphoria of bipolar, have not been properly dealt with. 

Do I Have to Keep Taking My Medication for Bipolar?

It is very important for people with bipolar in particular to keep taking their medication and keep their mania under control. Having only a little of the substance(s) you are addicted to can reverse the detoxification process and can cause someone to have to go back to drug rehabilitation. 

Sometimes, people’s bipolar is improperly treated. Many doctors mistake bipolar for unipolar depression. Unipolar depression is when depression symptoms exist without mania symptoms. Treatment for bipolar and treatment for unipolar depression are different even though they sometimes have the same symptoms. Bipolar disorder and unipolar depression are caused by different processes in the brain. 

How Do I Know if I Have Both Bipolar Disorder and an Addiction? 

There are many things that a proper rehabilitation center can provide for someone with bipolar co-occurring with addiction. Co-occurring disorders are mental disorders other than addiction that occur in a person who has an addiction disorder. Co-occurring disorders can be hard to diagnose. Often, the symptoms of a disorder like bipolar or depression are masked by the symptoms of substance use. 

Mental health issues like bipolar can make it difficult to have healthy relationships with your family, significant other, children, and friends. Addiction can also make practicing healthy coping skills for mental illness seem impossible. Diet and exercise are shown to be especially helpful for someone with a mental illness. 

How do I Get in Shape?

One of the things that a reputable addiction clinic will do is help their patients get in the habit of a healthy lifestyle including eating nutritional foods in reasonable portions and develop healthy exercise routines. Many clinics also offer alternative treatments like yoga, equine therapy, and adventure therapy. It is important to remember that none of these treatments alone will get you through the worst of your bipolar and addiction recovery process. Medication, clinical supervision, therapy, and a strong support network matter too. 

What Happens After Rehab?

When you are discharged from your addiction care center, you will often be referred to a therapy group and a therapist in your area. People who have co-occurring disorders will also be referred to a psychiatrist. Two of the most well-known group therapy networks are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). You will be referred to the right group. AA and NA are nationwide organizations with no affiliation with other groups. AA and NA are run solely by donations from people in their group and they do not accept donations from other people or any businesses or charities. 

This means that AA and NA are unbiased. If your therapist, psychiatrist, or other health professional decides to retire they will be an excellent source of information on which mental health professional will be best suited for you in the future.

Where Can I Get Aftercare After My Drug Rehab Program?

At DreamLife Recovery, we offer an aftercare program that consists of social group activities as well as continued group therapy. This will help you develop a strong support network of people who are going through the same experience as you. Addiction recovery can often feel lonely and friendships and support from people who are also going through bipolar disorder and addiction can help you feel less alone. 

Your support system outside of our clinic, your family, your health professionals all matter but sometimes it feels as though they do not understand you. Developing strong ties with other patients not only in group therapy and in the aftercare program, but in the residential treatment program, partial hospitalization program, and the outpatient program can mean a lot. 

Patients are also encouraged to find therapy groups specifically for people with bipolar or other mental disorders than addiction. Studies show that 60% of people with bipolar disorder struggle with addiction. You will not be alone in those groups. When you are ready to heal, please contact us Or Call us at: (844) 402-3592.


Article Reviewed by Lidice Morales

Lidice MoralesLidice Morales, an honors graduate from the Kaiser University, has made a name for herself as the Director of Nursing at several behavioral health facilities and as the Director of Operations for Detox MD. Now she is the VP of Operations at DreamLife Recovery. She strives for better patient care through constant self-improvement and furthering her education. Her steadfast work ethic and passion in the field has remained the most important aspect of her professional career; showing dedication to not only the acquisition of new knowledge, but also its mastery. Lidice believes that a professional work atmosphere fosters cohesion and malleability amongst herself and her coworkers; thereby increasing both the level of patient care and quality of life.

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