Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse

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People who live with bipolar disorder face many challenges, one of which is the temptation to use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate. It is estimated that 60% of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder struggle with substance abuse. People who experience mixed states of rapid cycling have the highest rate of danger.

Substance abuse compounds the problems of people with bipolar disorder. Alcohol and drugs can interfere with prescribed medication, causing them to recover more slowly from mood swings, get fewer benefits from their treatment and even make them more prone to suicide. Needless say, substances and bipolar disorder are a very bad combination.

There are many reasons why people with bipolar disorder turn to alcohol and drugs. They may feel hopeless about ever getting better, feeling as if nothing they do is working. They may use it to treat some of their symptoms, such as anxiety and restlessness. Or they may just be so desperate to relieve the chaotic moods they feel during their manic state that they’ll do almost anything to make it stop. There may even be a genetic link between bipolar disorder and alcoholism.

Whatever the reason, any person who chooses to self-medicate will see that their relief is short-lived. Substance abuse may temporarily treat the symptom, but not the underlying illness. The more the person uses a substance other than prescribed medication, the worse their symptoms will become in the long run. In fact, the symptoms of bipolar disorder and drug addiction are often the same: depression, mood swings, anxiety, social withdrawal and feelings of hopelessness.

The best approach to substance abuse is prevention. If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and have found yourself turning to drugs or alcohol to cope, seek treatment immediately with a general psychiatrist who specializes in both issues. Some sources suggest treating the substance abuse first, but both problems really need to be addressed at once to determine the best course of action. Dual diagnosis treatment tends to take longer than standard drug counseling because the doctor is aware of the patient’s fragile state.

The earlier you seek help, the better. Most detox centers say that it takes one month to break an addiction’s physical control, and it takes a full year of sobriety before a personal can be mentally free of the substance abuse. Relapses are common and can cause the person to feel even worse mentally. The earlier a drug or alcohol user with bipolar disorder seeks treatment, the more likely they are to achieve success without becoming too dependent.