Comorbidity, the presence of two or more disorders at once, is common in people with mental health struggles. There is a particularly strong link between mood disorders and drug or alcohol abuse. Bipolar disorder, a mood disorder characterized by strong highs and lows of emotion, has one of the highest rates of comorbidity with addiction. If you or a loved one is struggling with co-occurring bipolar disorder and substance abuse, you are not alone. By understanding how to recognize the signs of mental health struggles, as well as substance abuse, you can take the first steps to seek treatment.
Causes and Risk Factors Comorbid Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse
The three types of bipolar disorder have similar causes within the body. They also share common risk factors and comorbid conditions.
Causes of Bipolar Disorder
- Genetic disposition
- Biological structures in the brain
- Having a close relative with bipolar disorder
- Traumatic events or periods of high stress
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Anxiety disorders
- Eating disorders
- Physical illnesses or conditions, such as heart or thyroid disease
- Drug or alcohol abuse
Diagnosing Comorbid Bipolar Disorder and Addiction
Bipolar disorder and substance abuse are co-occurring conditions. This means that each can exacerbate the other — drug or alcohol use can worsen symptoms or bring to light a dormant bipolar disorder. Then, those with active bipolar disorder are more likely to develop a substance addiction. Identifying bipolar and addiction symptoms is important to recovery and healing. Since there are three major forms, each has unique criteria to diagnose and identify as comorbid with addiction.
Bipolar Type I is characterized by episodes of mania. Mania is a condition of high energy, impulsive behavior, and extreme moods for a week or longer. Signs of a manic episode include:
- Lack of sleep
- Rapid speech
- Scattered, uncontrollable thoughts or speech
- Increased impulsive behavior
- Lastly, distractibility
Intense manic episodes may also cause symptoms of mild psychosis, such as disorganized thinking or auditory or visual hallucination.
Type II bipolar disorder is diagnosed when both depression and hypomania are present. Depressive episodes are, indeed, recognizable by:
- Strong feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Feelings of guilt or lack of purpose
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Lastly, difficulty concentrating
This form of bipolar disorder is characterized by frequent mood swings, where rapid cycling between hypomania and depression occurs. Further, periods of cycling emotions without the intensity or duration to qualify as an episode indicate cyclothymia.
Hypomania includes less severe manic symptoms that last for less than one week. They are less disruptive to daily life than mania.
Addiction is a disease in which people have a strong, irresistible urge to abuse drugs or alcohol. People suffering from addiction are unable to stop using substances, despite the negative side effects. Symptoms of substance addiction include:
- Inability to control substance use
- Increased tolerance for drugs or alcohol
- Intense thoughts about substance
- Lack of self-control
- Physical health issues
- Deteriorating personal relationships
- Lastly, withdrawal
Comorbidity, or the co-occurrence of two disorders, is common between all forms of this disorder and addiction. In fact, 40-70% comorbidity rates are reported for types I and II. This co-occurrence can be diagnosed when symptoms of addiction and one type of bipolar disorder are present.
Treatment for Comorbid Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse
Patients with co-occurring bipolar disorder and substance abuse should treat these conditions in context of each other. Dual-licensed facilities are, in fact, the best treatment option. These institutes have staff that are experienced in treating both mental illness and substance abuse disorders. Through a combination of therapy, rehabilitation, and medication treatment plans, patients can recover on all sides for a healthier life.
At Fairwinds Treatment Center, our staff has the knowledge and experience to be able to dual diagnose comorbid conditions. Our treatment approach tackles both bipolar disorder and substance abuse to help you wholly recover. Contact us today with questions or to begin treatment.