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Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol Abuse: What’s the Connection?

Bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse often go hand-in-hand. In fact, 43% of people with bipolar disorder struggle with alcohol abuse or dependence. This is because many turn to alcohol to help cope with the ups and downs of having bipolar disorder. But over time, drinking can make bipolar symptoms even worse. And for people with alcohol addiction, having undiagnosed or untreated bipolar disorder hurts their chances of recovery. Thankfully, with the right treatment, people can get help for both bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder defined by periods of high and low moods. These mood changes are called manic and depressive episodes, respectively. While often caught at an early age, bipolar disorder can develop at any time in an individual’s life.

During manic episodes, you might feel euphoric, energetic, or excited. You can also have impaired judgment, leading to risky behavior like alcohol abuse. You might lose your appetite and start sleeping less. Irritability is also common during manic episodes—sometimes known as bipolar rage. Manic episodes last for at least one week. However, shorter, milder episodes are called hypomanic episodes.

Depressive episodes are the complete opposite. In a depressive state, you might feel down and empty, like you’re in a fog. This state can affect your sleeping habits. You could find yourself having sleepless nights, waking up early, and oversleeping all in the same week. Additionally, you may gain weight or lose interest in social activities. For most people, depressive episodes last longer than manic episodes.

There are three different subtypes of bipolar disorder:


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  • Bipolar I disorder. The most intense subtype of the disorder, this condition is marked by at least one manic episode. Affected people can have manic episodes so severe that they show signs of psychosis. Most people with bipolar I disorder also have depressive episodes.
  • Bipolar II disorder. Formerly known as manic depression, this subtype is characterized by both hypomanic and depressive episodes. Since they have similar symptoms, bipolar II disorder is often misdiagnosed as depression.
  • Cyclothymia. People with cyclothymia don’t experience depressive episodes. Instead, they have periods of more mild depression along with hypomanic episodes. Of the three subtypes, cyclothymia is the easiest to manage.

The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown. It’s possible that genetics, environmental factors, or a combination of both play a role. What is known is that people with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop substance use disorders like alcohol use disorder.

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder, or AUD, is a chronic disease that involves physical and mental dependence on alcohol. People who suffer from AUD find it hard to function normally without alcohol. Nearly 15 million people in the United States have AUD.

People can become addicted to alcohol for different reasons. Some are genetically predisposed to alcoholism. Others, including people with mood disorders like bipolar disorder or depression, have a high risk of developing AUD due to a mental health condition.

Of course, not everyone who drinks has an alcohol addiction. Many people can safely enjoy alcohol in moderation. So how do you tell if you or someone you know is at risk? Here are some warning signs to watch out for:

  • Drinking as a daily activity
  • Having more than three drinks per day
  • Binge drinking
  • Inability to drink in moderation
  • Drinking in the morning or during the day

People with alcohol use disorder can develop a high tolerance. With a higher tolerance comes more drinking, which leads to dependence and withdrawal symptoms. As the disease progresses, these symptoms can get even worse. For some, trying to quit drinking on their own can be dangerous.

How Are Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol Use Disorder Related?

bipolar disorder and alcohol

There is still no consensus on how exactly bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder are related, but there’s a known link between the two. In fact, over half of people with bipolar disorder are diagnosed with alcohol use disorder at some point in their life.

Genetics may explain the link. Research suggests that the same genes that put you at risk of having bipolar disorder also increase your chances of having AUD, smoking addiction, and anxiety disorder.

Beyond genetics, the up-and-down nature of bipolar disorder can lead you to seek out alcohol as a refuge. You might find yourself turning to alcohol during manic and depressive episodes for totally different reasons.

During manic episodes, you might be impulsive or engage in risky behaviors like binge drinking, leading to blackouts. On the other hand, when you feel anxious or depressed, alcohol may seem like a good way to escape those feelings. But since alcohol is a depressant, using it can make your bipolar symptoms worse.

Many people struggle with bipolar disorder and alcohol because the two feed into each other. Drinking may provide short-term relief for bipolar symptoms, but it also makes them worse over time. As your symptoms get worse, you’re more likely to drink even more. As this cycle continues, it intensifies until it’s hard to see a way out.

Local Dual Diagnosis Treatment in Gahanna, Ohio

Beating alcohol addiction is never easy. And quitting drinking while you have bipolar disorder can seem almost impossible. But there is support waiting for you, right here in Gahanna, Ohio.

If you have both bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction, your best course of action is to seek out help for both at the same time. With a dual diagnosis treatment program, you can get the medical, educational, and therapeutic care you need to overcome alcohol addiction while managing your bipolar disorder symptoms.

Nobody should have to deal with bipolar disorder and alcoholism alone. At The Woods at Parkside, we built our residential dual diagnosis program to help you face AUD while managing bipolar disorder in a peaceful, healing environment. If you’d like to learn more about our mental health and addiction programs, call our admissions specialists at 419-452-4818 or ask your questions online.

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Please note: For medical emergencies, please call 911. For other urgent matters, please call our admissions line (419) 452-4818. Submissions after-hours, weekends, or holidays may experience a longer response time.

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