Bipolar disorder and addiction

Bipolar disorder is a complex and often misunderstood condition. Everyday life can be like trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle, where the shapes of the pieces are constantly shifting with your emotions. When addiction enters the picture, it adds another layer of complexity, making an already difficult situation even more distressing. At Recovery Lighthouse, we understand the struggles that people with bipolar disorder face when overcoming their addiction. Our rehab treatment programmes cater to individuals struggling with bipolar.

Bipolar and addiction

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness or manic depression, is a mental health condition characterised by extreme mood swings, fluctuating between periods of mania (highs) and depression (lows). These mood swings can range from mild to severe, affecting daily life and relationships.

Bipolar disorder symptoms of manic episodes include:

  • Elevated mood
  • Increased energy
  • Irritability
  • Racing thoughts
  • Grandiose thinking
  • Little need for sleep

Bipolar disorder symptoms of depressive episodes include:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Lack of energy
  • Hopelessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns

What is dual diagnosis bipolar disorder and addiction?

A dual diagnosis occurs when someone has both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. In the case of bipolar disorder and addiction, the two conditions often exacerbate each other, creating a vicious cycle. Sadly, the two conditions co-occur frequently, with up to 72.3% of bipolar disorder sufferers also having an addiction at some time in their lives. These include:

Bipolar disorder and drug addiction…

Drug addiction can exacerbate the symptoms of bipolar disorder, leading to more intense mood swings, emotional instability and a higher risk of self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Simultaneously, bipolar disorder can make it more challenging to overcome drug addiction, as individuals may rely on drugs to self-medicate or cope with their emotional distress.

Bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction…

Alcohol addiction can have particularly damaging effects on individuals with bipolar disorder, as it can lead to increased mood swings and further emotional instability. Alcohol may temporarily relieve symptoms, but alcohol’s depressant effects can ultimately worsen depressive episodes and heighten the risk of self-destructive behaviours. Alcohol abuse can also interfere with the effectiveness of medications prescribed for bipolar disorder, further complicating the management of symptoms and recovery.

Bipolar disorder and behavioural addiction…

Behavioural addictions, such as gambling, compulsive shopping or internet addiction, can also be closely connected to bipolar disorder. Individuals with bipolar disorder may engage in these behaviours during manic episodes as they seek out high-risk, high-reward activities to satisfy their elevated mood and increased energy levels. This compulsive engagement in potentially harmful behaviours can create a vicious cycle as the consequences of these actions may contribute to the onset of depressive episodes, leading to further reliance on these addictive behaviours as coping mechanisms.

Why is dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and addiction so common?

Several factors contribute to the co-occurrence of bipolar disorder and addiction:

  • Some people may use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate, attempting to numb their emotional pain or stabilise their mood swings. For instance, someone with bipolar disorder might use stimulants during their depressive episodes to temporarily boost their energy and mood or sedatives during their manic episodes to calm their racing thoughts and agitation.
  • Additionally, bipolar disorder can lead to a lack of emotional control, increasing the risk of impulsive and risky behaviours, including substance use.
  • In some cases, medications used to treat bipolar disorder can be addictive, further complicating the situation.

Challenges you may face in addiction rehab with bipolar disorder

Rehabilitation for people with a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and addiction may present unique challenges that need to be overcome in unison with the medical and addiction recovery teams. These include:

Managing medication…

Balancing medications for bipolar disorder and managing withdrawal symptoms from addiction can be complex, but it is crucial for maintaining mood stability and preventing relapse.

Emotional regulation…

People with bipolar disorder may experience intensified emotional highs and lows during rehab, making it more challenging to cope with withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Bipolar disorder and addiction - woman struggling with emotions

Treatment adherence …

The fluctuating mood states associated with bipolar disorder can impact an individual’s motivation and commitment to treatment, potentially leading to inconsistent participation in therapy sessions and reluctance to follow through with aftercare plans.

Interpersonal relationships …

The mood swings and emotional volatility caused by bipolar disorder may strain relationships with peers and staff in rehab, potentially hindering the development of a supportive network essential for recovery.

Coping with triggers …

Identifying and managing triggers for bipolar disorder symptoms and substance use can be challenging as these triggers may overlap or interact in complex ways.

Dual relapse risk …

The risk of relapse for both bipolar disorder and addiction can be heightened during rehab, as managing one condition may inadvertently worsen the other, emphasising the need for an integrated treatment approach.

Finding the right treatment programme…

Not all rehab facilities are equipped to handle the unique challenges of a dual diagnosis. It is important to find a programme with experience in treating both bipolar disorder and addiction to ensure the best chance of successful recovery.

Transitioning to aftercare…

The process of transitioning from rehab to aftercare can be particularly challenging for people with a dual diagnosis as they need to maintain both their mental health and addiction recovery.

Bipolar disorder and addiction treatment at Recovery Lighthouse

Before starting treatment at Recovery Lighthouse, the first step is to consult your healthcare professional to stabilise bipolar disorder. This can then give you the best possible platform to focus on your recovery from addiction.

After that, you can then begin our comprehensive rehab treatment programme. We have extensive experience treating people with dual diagnosis mental health and addiction conditions and can ensure your therapy sessions are tailored to your unique needs.

Some of the most effective therapies for treating addiction in the context of bipolar disorder include:

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)…

  • A specialised form of CBT focusing on emotional regulation, distress tolerance and interpersonal relationships
  • Teaches mindfulness techniques to increase self-awareness and more control
  • Develops distress tolerance skills to cope with the intense emotions
  • Provides strategies to improve communication and assertiveness in relationships

Family therapy…

  • Involves loved ones in the recovery process to provide support and improve communication
  • Addresses family dynamics and issues that may be contributing to addiction
  • Helps family members understand the individual’s struggles and provide appropriate support
  • Develops coping strategies for family members to deal with challenges associated with the dual diagnosis

Bipolar disorder and addiction - family therapy

Aftercare is also crucial for long-term recovery as the transition from rehab back to everyday life can come as a real shock to the system, especially when dealing with bipolar disorder. Recovery Lighthouse provides weekly group therapy sessions for a year in our aftercare programmes which will help you maintain sobriety.

The next step

Recovering from addiction may seem daunting, but it is achievable with the right support and treatment. If you or a loved one are struggling, take the first step towards recovery by contacting Recovery Lighthouse. Our experienced team can help you navigate the complexities of dual diagnosis treatment, guiding you towards a healthier, more stable future.

Frequently asked questions

Are people with bipolar disorder dangerous?
While bipolar disorder can lead to impulsive or risky behaviours during manic episodes, it is crucial to understand that the majority of individuals with bipolar disorder are not violent or dangerous. In fact, they are more likely to be a danger to themselves during depressive episodes as they may experience suicidal thoughts or self-harm.
Does bipolar disorder mean you have multiple personalities?
No, bipolar disorder does not mean you have multiple personalities. While bipolar disorder involves fluctuations in mood and energy levels, it is not the same as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder, which involves the presence of two or more distinct identities or personalities.
Which bipolar disorder medications can be addictive?
Various medications prescribed for bipolar disorder have the potential for abuse or addiction, particularly if they are not taken as directed. Benzodiazepines, which are sometimes prescribed to help manage anxiety or agitation associated with bipolar disorder, can be habit-forming and lead to dependence if used inappropriately or for prolonged periods. Likewise, stimulant medications, occasionally prescribed for depressive episodes in bipolar disorder, can also be addictive.
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