Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse

Emotions are hard for anyone to control. When something horrible happens, we feel sad. When something wonderful happens, we feel amazing.

The brain is simply designed to respond to events with signals of either sadness or joy, and it happens at such a subconscious level that it’s difficult to control the swings.

But what happens when that system of happiness and sadness is somehow hijacked? What happens when people have even less control over moods than they might if the brain was working properly?

That’s what’s happening to the more than 4 percent of Americans that have bipolar disorder, according to research cited by the American Psychological Association. For these people, difficulties in brain circuitry make controlling emotions even more difficult than it might otherwise be.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

The American Psychiatric Association suggests that bipolar disorder involves dramatic shifts in mood. In the classic form of the disease, people shift from an extremely happy state to an extremely low state, and then back again.

That happy state is known as mania, and it’s a form of joy and energy that’s almost unheard of in people who don’t have mental illness. During the manic stage, people experience:

  • Delusions of grandeur
  • A sense of power or invincibility
  • Bursts of creativity
  • Recklessness
  • Rapid thoughts
  • Insomnia

The depressed phase that follows is the polar opposite of mania. Rather that feeling strong, powerful, and invincible, people in the depressed phase can feel:

  • Exhausted
  • Worthless
  • Helpless
  • Hopeless
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Suicidal

A person with a classic form of bipolar disorder might experience slow shifts between these moods on a regular basis, but there are all sorts of bipolar variations out there. Some people feel only the depressed part of bipolar disorder, shifting in and out of high and low feelings of despair without ever feeling good. Some people feel only mild mania and intense depression, and some people feel both mania and depression at the same time.

Challenges of Bipolar Disorder

The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that about half of all people with bipolar disorder feel symptoms starting before age 25. Without treatment, the disorder tends to get worse with time.

In some people, the symptoms tend to intensify. The manic symptoms they feel seem to grow stronger and stronger, and the steps they take while in the midst of a manic episode grow more and more dramatic. People like this might binge on drugs, commit crimes, or harm the people they love, all while under the influence of mania. During the depressive stage, people might grow ever more suicidal, and they might have suicide attempts.

It’s very difficult for people like this to hold down jobs, because they can’t be sure of the way they’ll feel from one day to the next. Accepting jobs with responsibility can be tricky, because these people may not be sure that they can handle those tasks if mania or depression hits. Without jobs, people like this can have no chance at secure housing and financial security.

Clearly, bipolar disorder isn’t something that people can ignore. But with treatment, things can get so much better.

Bipolar Disorder Treatment and Recovery

People with bipolar disorder are at severe risk of developing co-occurring addictions. That’s because drugs might not seem dangerous or capable of hurting them, while they’re in the midst of a manic episode. During the depressive phase, drugs can actually seem helpful in boosting the mood. So people with bipolar disorder might take more drugs than others do, and they might develop addictions as a result. So any program for bipolar disorder should include an assessment for drug use, and therapies should be used to help people to overcome that drug use.

Mental Health America reports that there is no known cure for bipolar disorder. There’s no shot or operation or treatment that can shock the brain into a normal cycle and make the oscillations disappear, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing that can be done to help with the condition. Therapies, in fact, can be intensely helpful for people with bipolar conditions.

In a dual diagnosis treatment program, people have the opportunity to understand the subtle shifts in emotion that they feel on a regular basis. They may never stop these shifts altogether, but they might learn techniques that can help them to reduce the severity of the swing. Instead of acting out in ways that might be dangerous, they might learn to meditate, exercise, create, or otherwise handle those feelings and work through them, so they can pass through on the other side in safety.

As the National Alliance on Mental Illness points out, recovery from bipolar disorder tends to be a process, not an event. People with this illness need to take things slowly and learn over time, and the techniques they might apply can shift as their lives shift. Aftercare is vital for people with bipolar disorder, as a result, because they might need help that lasts for much longer than a standard addiction treatment program does.

The staff of The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake understands this quite well. That’s why treatment programs are designed with aftercare in mind. People have the chance to learn in the acute portion of the program, and they use aftercare therapies to stay on track in the months and years that follow acute care.

If you’d like to find out more about how this works, please call. We have admissions staff standing by to help.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.