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Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol Addiction: Understanding the Connection

a woman discusses the connection between bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction with a therapist

Bipolar disorder, once more commonly known as manic depression, is a mental health disorder causing unusual shifts in energy, mood, activity levels, and the ability to complete day-to-day tasks. Unfortunately, it’s relatively common for people who struggle with bipolar disorder also to have an addiction to alcohol or, in some cases, other substances. In fact, alcohol addiction can make bipolar disorder difficult to diagnose and vice-versa, yet successfully managing both diseases is key to long-term recovery and well-being.

Diagnosing patients with comorbid bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction proves especially challenging even for skilled and experienced healthcare providers. Therefore, you should not attempt a self-diagnosis. Instead, seek mental health treatment as soon as possible. If you have both bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction, it is often best to seek dual diagnosis treatment, which will address both concerns concurrently. To learn about the options for bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction treatment, please reach out to Vertava Health today at 888.601.8693.

Examining the Relationship Between Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol Addiction

Experts in addiction explain that multiple theories have been presented to explain the link between bipolar disorder and alcoholism. However, the specific link still isn’t fully understood. There is some evidence to suggest an underlying genetic component contributing to both diseases. Alcohol use may worsen the course of bipolar disorder, making it significantly more challenging to treat. People with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol. According to statistics presented by the AJMC, up to half of the people with bipolar disorder have at least one comorbid mental health disorder. Individuals with bipolar disorder are three times more likely to develop alcohol use or dependence. In one study of patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder:

  • 46% had comorbid alcohol use or dependence
  • 41% had drug use or dependence
  • 21% had panic disorder
  • 21% had OCD

The primary challenge for those with co-occurring bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction is that the emotional instability can make it particularly challenging to comply with the guidelines of a treatment plan or recovery program. A treatment plan or rehabilitation program specifically designed to address the challenges of complex mental health disorders is the key to recovery. In this treatment, trained specialists can design treatment programs that successfully address co-occurring conditions. This can avoid the complications presented by symptoms of one disorder that hinder the treatment of another.

Strategies for Diagnosing Co-Occurring Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol Addiction

Separating symptoms from disorder is the biggest hurdle in successfully diagnosing co-occurring bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction. Learning to differentiate among these is essential in the assessment process to the treatment and recovery process.

Some individuals are only diagnosed when they have begun the path to recovery from alcohol use. When someone uses alcohol to self-medicate and ease the symptoms of bipolar disorder, medical professionals may mistakenly attribute behaviors and other symptoms to alcohol use. Thus, taking the first step to recovery can be the key to finally pinpointing the underlying cause of your mental health issues and beginning the journey to successful recovery.

Due to the high rate of comorbidity of bipolar disorder and alcohol or drug addiction, screening those who presently have an addiction could prove an effective way to identify these patients. They can then initiate active treatment for both disorders simultaneously.

Strategies for Successfully Treating Co-Occurring Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol Addiction

The first step to developing an effective treatment strategy is to create a comprehensive and integrated treatment plan. The experts at Vertava Health can develop this plan for you. Our programs are designed to provide individualized care that meets your unique needs. We understand that no two people are alike, and we tailor our treatment programs to fit your specific situation. Our goal is to provide you with the skills and support you need to successfully manage both bipolar disorder and addiction and lead a happy, healthy, and productive life. We suggest that you employ the following strategies.

Alcohol Detox

Inpatient alcohol detox and rehab is often a valuable first step in recovery. While the road to recovery may be different for each individual, people attempting recovery from alcohol or drug addiction often have to go through a detoxification period before recovery can truly begin. Detoxification may involve withdrawal symptoms, which may include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue or insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Delirium tremens, which can include seizures and hallucinations

Detox is safest when medical professionals carefully monitor this process. This process can make the withdrawal process more manageable for the patient to endure. The inpatient setting also provides better results in many cases, as patients do not have easy access to their substance of choice during the withdrawal period.

Talk to Your Treatment Providers About Your Dual Diagnosis

All treatment providers should be aware of your dual diagnosis. If you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and a substance use disorder or alcohol addiction, all of your treatment providers must be aware of your dual diagnosis. Your healthcare providers may overlook important considerations if they’re not aware of the full complexity of your mental health disorders.

Find Careful Oversight

Careful oversight to ensure treatment compliance is key. Treatment adherence is of utmost importance for people with bipolar disorder. The nature of the illness results in many patients not being able to recognize their illness, particularly during periods of high symptom severity. During these phases, it’s not uncommon for patients to stop taking medications that regulate their moods and emotions.

Be Aware of How Alcohol Addiction Impacts Bipolar Disorder

People with bipolar disorder must understand the serious dangers that alcohol use poses for them. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and can exacerbate already-altered moods, resulting in an escalation of symptoms that can easily lead to poor choices, serious injury, or worse.

Long-Term Recovery for People with Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol Addiction

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong mental health disorder requiring long-term management, as is alcohol addiction. Despite the challenges, long-term recovery is achievable. In fact, many people struggling with both disorders are able to lead healthy lives and maintain long-term mental health. However, they often practice the following strategies.

Join a Support Group

Support groups are important for long-term recovery. Some organizations promote the idea that to be truly clean, you must not use any substances, including those prescribed by a physician for a legitimate mental health disorder. In the case of bipolar disorder, long-term medication therapy is often essential for continued recovery. A support group that recognizes these needs or even focuses on those with dual diagnoses may be a more appropriate choice, depending on your unique circumstances.

Develop and Practice Long-Term Coping Strategies

During treatment and recovery, it’s vital to develop coping strategies for overcoming stress and leading a healthier lifestyle. Habits such as regular exercise, for instance, can provide stress relief and promote emotional well-being. A healthy diet, a support network, hobbies or volunteer activities, and ongoing treatment are all important components of long-term recovery.

Include Your Loved Ones in Your Recovery

Involve family members or other caregivers in recovery. When people you trust understand your illness and know how to recognize symptoms of drug or alcohol use, this support network can intervene. When signs of trouble arise, your personal support system can help you avoid relapse or encourage you to discuss your symptoms with your healthcare providers. In some cases, a simple adjustment to medications or dosage can put you back on the path to health again. Your loved ones can play a key role in helping you maintain long-term well-being. It’s also helpful to have someone you trust to turn to when you’re experiencing normal emotional upheavals and someone to encourage you to adopt healthy habits.

Continue to Commit to Treatment

Commit to following the key recovery concepts, including hope, perspective, personal responsibility, self-advocacy, education, and support. When you take ownership of your mental health and commit to long-term wellness, you gain greater control over your own well-being. This sense of ownership empowers many people to comply with treatment regimens and seek help when they feel as though their symptoms are escaping their control. Even when your disease does escape your grasp, having this sense of ownership will help you to work with treatment providers to work towards regaining your sense of control over your emotions, actions, and your life as a whole.

Seek Treatment at Vertava Health

Struggling with both bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction is not an easy path to take, yet those who suffer from both don’t have a choice in the matter. The road to recovery may seem long, windy, and rife with obstacles. However, recovery and long-term well-being are achievable. Long-term disease management requires a commitment to compliance with treatment for both disorders and other key elements, but even those who at first feel there is no hope may achieve long-term health with the proper, integrated, and customized approach to treatment and long-term management of their mental health.