Alcohol and Bipolar Disorder
Alcohol and Bipolar Disorder have a close and complex relationship. Few mental health disorders are as closely associated with alcohol abuse as bipolar disorder.
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The Relationship Between Alcohol and Bipolar Disorder
Addiction to alcohol and bipolar disorder are very commonly present together. In fact, some studies have found that the majority of individuals with bipolar disorder will develop an alcohol use disorder of some kind during their lives. Some estimates suggest that up to 43% of individuals with bipolar disorder have some form of an alcohol use disorder at any given time.
Many people believe bipolar disorder references someone experiencing happiness one moment and sadness or anger the very next as if someone turned on a switch. This is far from the reality of bipolar disorder. Hopelessness or feeling lost can occur, fluctuating to intense feelings of happiness, or numbness. It may seem like a constant back and forth struggle, but it is so much more to each individual suffering.
People who suffer from bipolar disorder often feel out of control or out of touch with their life. Unsure of what to do or how to feel when an episode occurs make turning to alcohol a very appealing solution in relieving these mind-numbing symptoms.
Alcohol helps calm nerves, especially in social settings. It can possibly relieve the negative symptoms of bipolar disorder temporarily, yet can increase chances of worsening the disorder later on.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar I Disorder
Bipolar I Disorder is a very intense state of the illness. A mixed state of mind often occurs in this type of disorder with intense feelings of euphoria or excitement. Only this stage of happiness deteriorates as it is followed by extreme sadness and a bountiful sense of depression. Bipolar I is typified by mania, a state where affected individuals may not be able to accurately interpret and understand the world around them.
Bipolar II Disorder
Bipolar II Disorder is a less intense state than Bipolar I Disorder, but still carries extreme feelings. This disorder similarly causes elevated moods of joy, but never reach the high mania stages like Bipolar I Disorder. Instead, Bipolar II is typified by hypo-mania, where affected individuals may experience intense emotions but generally do not lose touch with reality. Since depression is associated with the disease more often than not, Bipolar II Disorder is frequently misdiagnosed as depression. This is where the term “manic depression” comes from.
Not Otherwise Specified (NOS)
NOS is a little harder to diagnose due to its sporadic patterns of feelings and behaviors. These patterns do not fit into specific labels of the illness, lacking a more efficient way to classify a similar disorder. This term is now replaced by two other terms: “other specified” and “unspecified,” still accepting an incapability to fit into any category of bipolar disorder.
Cyclothymia simply put, is a mild form of bipolar disorder. It still carries frequent up and down feelings but provides a more stable balance in feeling normal between these minor disruptive feelings.
Rapid cycling can make you feel out of control as if your feelings are twisting and turning on a never-ending roller coaster. Diagnosed as four or more occasions of mania, hypomania, or depressive episodes a year, rapid cycling can cause out of the blue mood swings, making you feel as if you’ve lost control of your emotions. This type of bipolar disorder is known for spiraling excessive episodes, followed by stabilized feelings for some time until the cycle starts up again.
The Mix of Alcohol and Bipolar Disorder
Alcohol is known to intensify bipolar disorder due to its sedating effects. It acts similarly to some medications, risking feelings of depression with each swig of alcohol. Alcohol also greatly increases the severity of mania, which many who suffer from bipolar find extremely pleasurable. Although, alcohol can increase the negative effects of bipolar disorder in either direction, flaming the fire with each sip.
Drinking on bipolar medication can turn one drink into several, especially drinking on an empty stomach. Alcohol can also destabilize bipolar disorder, giving up your control of emotions to an empty glass.
What Causes Bipolar Individuals to Drink?
Regardless of the blurred nights and the draining hangovers leading to mixed intensified feelings once the alcohol leaves the body, many bipolar individuals still choose to drink. For some, the relaxed feelings and the heightened mania far outweigh the negative effect alcohol has on the mood.
The higher the high alcohol would bring, the lower the low a bipolar individuals mood would project onto daily life, yet for some it is all worth it. Alcohol eases the anxiety between the crazy feelings and the ups and downs bipolar disorder brings about. Mild drugs don’t seem to cut out all the symptoms many feel with bipolar disorder. Additionally, many with bipolar disorder find that the side effects of most medications are so extreme that they would rather self-medicate and deal with the consequences.
Although alcohol can provide relief from bipolar disorder, it also endangers an individual with the illness, intensifying the effects of the disorder and increasing risks over time. It is not recommended to drink when you suffer from bipolar disorder, as uncomfortable and unwanted episodes can occur from any amount you may drink.
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Alcohol and Bipolar Disorder Treatment
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and Bipolar Disorder are often treated separately. However, it is almost always better to treat the dual diagnosis at the same time rather than have the untreated illness bring back symptoms of the one that received treatment.
Although there is little research to treat both these disorders simultaneously, therapy is a key success factor for any disorder. Learning to deal with bipolar disorder the right way can influence smarter choices such as the choice to remain abstinent from alcohol.
Many of those suffering from bipolar disorder turn to alcohol to suppress the symptoms the disorder comes with. Medicine can be prescribed to reduce the uncontrollable state experienced, reducing the motivation to drink alcohol as a coping mechanism. Additionally, many bipolar medications react very negatively with alcohol, causing effects such as intense hangovers and vomiting.
Are you or a loved one struggling with addiction to alcohol and bipolar disorder? Many inpatient and outpatient programs help deal with both disorders, ideally eliminating the cravings for alcohol and stabilizing bipolar disorder. Contact a treatment specialist today for free advice on treatment plans and options for dealing with this co-morbid disorder.
- Medical Reviewer — Last Reviewed: April 19, 2019
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