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Bipolar Disorder & Addiction

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Treating Co-occurring Disorders & Substance Abuse: The Root of Your Addiction Could be a Bipolar Disorder

Over half of individuals struggling with bipolar disorder symptoms have experienced substance abuse at some point in their lives. The frequent highs and lows experienced by those who suffer from bipolar disorder are often a source of great mental and emotional pain from which individuals seek relief—often with drugs and Alcohol.

We realize that people who often self-medicate to relieve symptoms of bipolar disorders unknowingly enter into a vicious cycle of mental instability and substance abuse. If an individual is self-medicating to cope with the pain of bipolar disorder, they deserve treatment that will address not just one, but both conditions. A Better Today Recovery Services understands that for a person to successfully recover from drugs and Alcohol addiction, mental health disorders must be treated as well. Our clinicians diligently examine and look for signs of co-occurring disorders in our patients.

We believe it is better to leave no stone unturned. It is vital that one understands that getting the proper treatment can help effectively shut the door to Substance abuse and pave way for long-term recovery.

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Nick shares his journey through recovery and how living with bipolar disorder has impacted his life. 

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Bipolar Symptoms: What Does a Bipolar Disorder Look Like?

Bipolar disorder, or manic depression, is a mental illness characterized by extreme mood changes of highs and lows. People with bipolar disorder may experience frequent changes in their mood, sleep, energy, thoughts, and behaviors. They can go through intense mental and emotional pain as their mood spectrum goes from intense highs to depressive lows.

The intense highs of bipolar are called “manic episodes.” Manic episodes can be overconfidence, delusions of grandeur, and overexcitement. A person experiencing a manic episode can also be very irritable and begin to display risky and reckless behavior. Bipolar disorder also affects activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

The lows of Bipolar disorder are known as “depressive states,” and they mimic the symptoms of clinical depression. An individual can feel hopeless, sad, and worthless during these episodes. Prolonged depressive states can result in suicidal behavior.

Those with bipolar disorder can experience a mid-range mood between these highs and lows where they may feel temporarily normal. For those with extreme cases of bipolar disorder, this does not last long. More than any other mental health disorder, those with bipolar are more likely to turn to substance abuse to self-medicate. A substance use disorder can either trigger bipolar disorder or make a person’s existing bipolar disorder more unmanageable.

When they are experiencing mania, a state in which they are joyous and anxious, they exhibit poor judgment. These individuals could make decisions without considering the consequences of those choices. They may act in an abnormally hyperactive way. Therefore, bipolar patients experiencing mania might end up in dangerous situations.

Coupling this disorder with the mental, emotional, and physical instability caused by substance abuse creates serious and lasting problems. However, addiction treatment can help those who suffer from both substance use disorder and bipolar disorder.

Why is it Important to Treat Both Bipolar and Substance Abuse Disorders Simultaneously?

When bipolar disorder and a substance addiction develop in someone’s life, it greatly increases the potential for negative consequences in a person’s life. The highs and lows of bipolar disorder can cause mental frustration, emotional pain, and turmoil. Too often are the symptoms of an undiagnosed mental disorder. The extreme polarities of bipolar disorder are often a reason that leads a person to abuse drugs and alcohol heavily.

A person struggling with active addiction tends to be unaware that they are also dealing with an undiagnosed bipolar disorder. When drug and Alcohol abuse begins, they do not realize that they are self-medicating to control the symptoms of bipolar disorder. This destructive behavior of self-medicating causes the person to depend on that substance for every symptom their bipolar disorder causes, quickly leading to an addiction that will eventually spiral out of control.

If an individual has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is self-medicating with drugs and Alcohol, seeking help can save their life. It is important to seek treatment and therapy options.  Modalities include cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, individual therapy, family therapy, group therapy, trauma therapy, and more.

Why Do People with a Bipolar Disorder Self-medicate with Drugs & Alcohol

The reason why those with a bipolar disorder tend to use Alcohol and drugs to self-medicate varies. For some, it is a way to bring themselves back up from the lows of the disorder. For others, it is a way to attempt to stabilize themselves and get back onto a middle ground when they are having an extreme manic episode. And some, unfortunately, feel a sense of identity in their manic episodes and will use certain drugs like stimulants to bring them back up to that energetic feeling of grandiosity that bipolar highs produce.

Individuals who are mixing prescribed psychiatric medications with illicit drugs or Alcohol are putting themselves at great risk. Mixing these can be fatal or life threatening. A Better Today Recovery Services believes that the lifestyle of self-medicating for undiagnosed mental disorders it is not worth the risk.

When an individual uses drugs and Alcohol it only works for a short period of time to help them achieve the desired state. The cycle can go on for years, leaving those with a dual-diagnosis untreated. The good news is that no matter how bad things have become, our medical professionals understand co-occurring disorders and the importance of treating each disorder simultaneously.

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What are the Signs of a Bipolar Disorder?

Recent studies have shown that bipolar disorder is more common than previously thought. Unfortunately, diagnosis of a bipolar disorder is often missed and individuals can go for years, unaware of their disorder. Some common signs of a bipolar disorder are mood swings, sadness, elevated mood, intense anxiety, apathy, euphoria, apprehension and loss of interest or pleasure in much loved activities.

The behavioral signs can range from rapid speech, risk taking, disorganized behavior, agitation, crying, an overactive sex drive, hyperactivity, aggression and more. Cognitive symptoms are overactive or obsessive thoughts, an inability to concentrate, delusions and a false sense of superiority, while the psychological signs are depression, manic-episodes, agitated depression or paranoia.

Those struggling with a bipolar disorder can also experience insomnia or have long periods of excessive sleepiness. Many times, when these signs are present, individuals tend to chalk it up as stress or a long day at work. When the symptoms go untreated for a long period of time, it is common for an individual to begin using drugs and Alcohol to alleviate the pain of these symptoms. Unfortunately, drugs and Alcohol only further complicate and hinder proper treatment.

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Why is There a Stigma Surrounding a Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse?

It seems that most mental health disorders come with a negative stigma. For a person struggling with a dual-diagnosis of a bipolar and substance use disorder, the stigma is double. ABTRS understands how stigma can prevent an individual from seeking help and we urge the men and women who come into our program to not allow that stigma to get in the way of their treatment.

A Better Today Recovery Services a stigma-free, positive and supportive environment. We educate and teach our patients about co-occurring disorders, the disease model of addiction and the stigma that is associated with it. We understand that seeking treatment for a bipolar disorder can bring on many negative feelings.

Although acceptance of addiction has come a long way, many continue to have a negative opinion of mental health disorders. We believe the more we squash the stigma, the better it will be for those seeking treatment. Less stigma means more honest and open discussions about disorders that affect many Americans.

We also want our patients to learn to show acceptance and compassion to themselves. The more our patients learn to accept and love themselves and understand their co-occurring disorders, the closer they will get to their idea of success in recovery. A Better Today Recovery Services believes that if we help educate our patients about the disease model of addiction and bipolar disorder.

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When Researching on Bipolar disorder and Substance Abuse, Reputable Unbiased Resources are Key

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse Treatment for Persons With Co-Occurring Disorders. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2005. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 42.) 6 Traditional Settings and Models. Available from:

NIDA. (2018, February 27). Common Comorbidities with Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved from on 2019, February 13 (2019). Understanding Bipolar Disorder Young Adult: Get the Facts | SAMHSA Publications. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Feb. 2019].

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