Impact of Co-Occurring Bipolar Disorder and Addiction

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headache caused by substance abuse

When a loved one shows signs of a mood disorder like bipolar disorder, he or she acts out in ways that family members do not always understand. In some cases, a loved one uses drugs or alcohol as a coping strategy or worsens the symptoms of bipolar disorder by abusing a substance.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness1, almost 50 percent of men and women with a severe form of bipolar disorder and 33 percent of all individuals with a mental health disorder abuse drugs or alcohol.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

The National Institute on Mental Health2 says that bipolar disorder refers to a type of brain disease. A loved one shows abnormal changes in mood over time and shifts from a down or depressed mood to a high mood, or a manic phase.

In most cases, a loved one shows severe mood swings or shifts in mood over time, which impacts personal relationships and interests. Ways that bipolar disorder impacts a loved one’s lifestyle include:

  • Difficult or damaged relationships with friends and family
  • Poor performance at school or in a job
  • Difficulty maintaining a job or career
  • Abnormal behaviors
  • Attempted suicide

Due to the potential risks associated with bipolar disorder, you want to encourage treatment. The symptoms worsen over time if a loved one does not seek professional help and start working on managing the symptoms.

Impact of the Disorder on Substance Abuse

When a loved one shows signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, it impacts his or her life in different ways. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse3, a loved one uses drugs or alcohol in an effort to reduce the symptoms of the disorder. Essentially, a loved one self-medicates with drugs or alcohol.

The National Institutes on Health4 report that self-medication usually occurs during a manic phase because a loved one attempts to prolong the good feelings or attempts to sedate the agitated state by using alcohol or similar substances. The National Institute on Drug Abuse3 states that some individuals abuse the substance due to over-lapping vulnerabilities, which impact the disorder and the substance abuse.

Impact of Substance Abuse on the Disorder

Even though bipolar disorder causes substance abuse in certain situations, some individuals face a different situation. In some cases, withdrawal symptoms or substance abuse bring out the bipolar symptoms and directly cause the mental health disorder.

When the substance abuse causes bipolar disorder, it directly relates to the chemical changes in the brain. The National Institutes on Health4 explain that the chemical reactions in the brain and the impact on neurotransmitters during withdrawal symptoms impact the way that the body and brain react. The substance abuse ultimately causes the bipolar disorder symptoms due to the changes that occur in the brain.

Ways that the substance abuse impacts bipolar disorder include:

  • Causing the disorder due to changes in the brain
  • Causing the disorder during withdrawal
  • Making the symptoms more severe
  • Shortening the times between mood swings

The Danger of Self-Medication

Drugs and alcohol directly impact the brain and the body. In some cases, it causes the disorder or it makes the symptoms of an existing disorder more severe and uncomfortable. As a result, it causes a downward spiral as a loved one self-medicates.

Substance abuse impacts a loved one’s health when he or she also shows signs of bipolar disorder. By treating the disorders at the same time, a loved one makes positive changes and learns to avoid inappropriate substances in the future.


  1. Dual Diagnosis, The National Alliance on Mental Illness,
  2. What is Bipolar Disorder?, The National Institute on Mental Health,
  3. What is Comorbidity?, The National Institute on Drug Abuse, March 2011,
  4. Susan C. Sonne, Pharm.D., and Kathleen T. Brady, M.D., Ph.D., Bipolar Disorder and Alcoholism, The National Institutes on Health, November 2002,

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