Understanding Bipolar Disorder and Addiction

Bipolar disorder and substance use disorder (SUD) often co-occur. There are several reasons for this occurrence. It is common for a person with a mental health condition to self-treat with certain substances. Thus, this can often lead to addiction. Additionally, SUD can lead to an increased likelihood of an individual developing a mental health condition such as bipolar disorder.

An individual with bipolar disorder may experience symptoms such as severe depressive episodes, mixed episodes, mania, high energy, excitement, reduced sleep, or decreased inhibitions. This type of behavior is typically present before even being diagnosed with a mental illness.

Substance use is often discouraged for those with bipolar disorder. Drug and alcohol abuse can significantly increase the severity of symptoms. If an individual faces SUD co-occurring with bipolar disorder, it is imperative to seek professional help. Choosing to explore mental health and addiction treatment options can help individuals achieve recovery from a dual diagnosis.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

As stated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that causes extreme shifts in an individual’s mood ranging from intense highs and depressive lows. A person may experience manic episodes or severe depression symptoms. Due to frustration regarding these rapid and intense mood shifts, an individual may experience strong feelings of rage, irritability, and intense confusion. 

There are three types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorder. The intensity of mood shifts determines which mood disorder the individual may have. For each type, there are periods where a person may feel mentally stable in between depressive or manic episodes.

Millions of adults in the United States are affected by bipolar disorder. Although symptoms from the condition can occur at any age, they typically arise in the teen years. The condition usually fully presents itself in a person’s 20s. Family history, genetics, anomalies in brain structure, past trauma, and SUD can put a person at an increased risk of having the condition.

The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Addiction

The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC-III) estimated that approximately one-quarter of individuals facing challenges with mood disorders drank alcohol, used illicit drugs, or misused prescription medications to relieve the symptoms of the condition.

Furthermore, based on research, individuals with bipolar I disorder were more likely to self-treat their condition with substances. Females were less likely to engage in self-medicating behaviors. Males were twice as likely, if not more, to self-treat and attempt to control the effects of bipolar disorder with drugs or alcohol. 

Risks That Can Come From Substance Use

Research has invariably shown that co-occurring disorders with SUD have a severe negative impact on the outcome of an individual’s condition. When a person with bipolar disorder continues to use certain substances, they are at risk for: 

  • Prolonged and more frequent episodes
  • Decreased attention to treatment
  • Lower quality of life
  • Increased suicidal behavior

Self-medicating for a psychiatric disorder can be detrimental to an individual’s life as a whole. Doing so may put them at risk for:

  • Trouble with law enforcement
  • Divorce and relationship problems
  • Challenges maintaining employment

Treatment Options for Addiction and Bipolar Disorder

Reaching out to a psychiatrist, speaking with a therapist, and staying in touch with one’s family practitioner and health care providers can greatly improve one’s quality of life. Taking time to research one’s diagnosis and surrendering to treatment can be very helpful. By doing so, one may find the balance one is looking for. Individuals may find their relationships, employment, and home environment may become more stable too. Taking care of their physical and mental health can make it easier to function on a day-to-day basis. 


It can be very difficult for a person with bipolar disorder to overcome addiction. Coping with the symptoms of a mental illness can be complex. Different forms of psychosocial therapy, holistic therapy, participation in support groups, and taking certain prescription medications can work well in treating a dual diagnosis.

Communicating an individual’s symptoms and setting goals helps that person’s mental health specialist develop the best treatment plan for them. This can improve their chances for a successful and safe recovery. 


Practicing a self-care routine can help individuals stay balanced and greatly improve their mental and physical health. Removing unhealthy relationships with others who do not live a sober lifestyle may be a wise decision. Engaging in fun, sober activities is a great way to practice self-care and can create healthy connections and open up new opportunities for one’s future. 


Support from family, friends, and mental health care professionals can increase motivation. With additional support, individuals may gain the strength to stay committed to their treatment plan. Depending on the severity of their condition, an individualized treatment plan may be an effective option. Choosing to accept help can not only provide these individuals with many benefits but potentially prevent relapse and save their lives.

Overcoming addiction and finding the right skills to cope with bipolar disorder can be difficult. Taking the time to understand your mental health condition and committing to a treatment plan can make a positive change in your or a loved one’s life. As a licensed and accredited treatment center, 12 South Recovery is a leader in Orange County mental health treatment. We use evidence-based treatment, medical staff, and licensed therapists to ensure every patient has the tools to move past drug abuse and move on with their life. If you feel you are in need of professional help and are looking for support, call 12 South Recovery at 866-839-6876 to learn more.

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