The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol Abuse

If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you may not realize that you are at higher risk of abusing alcohol. If you are already dependent on alcohol for managing your bipolar symptoms, there are treatment options that can help you overcome alcohol abuse. Let’s take a look at how bipolar disorder is linked with alcoholism.

Bipolar Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol and Bipolar Disorder - Image of a bottle of wine and a glass of wine half full sitting on a table. In the background slightly out of focus you see a couple fighting as the man leans up against a kitchen counter while the woman yells at him.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, some researchers believe that alcohol abuse can actually trigger bipolar symptoms. However, there is no hard evidence that supports this. Some experts theorize that people with bipolar disorder actually use alcohol to subdue their bipolar symptoms, such as when they are experiencing manic signs.

Another potential theory for the link between alcoholism and bipolar disorder is that people with bipolar disorder tend to act recklessly, which could also be a sign of alcohol abuse.

Research also shows that people who are diagnosed with alcohol use disorder but later exhibit bipolar symptoms may be able to receive treatment and recover more quickly. However, if you are initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and later abuse alcohol, you might have more difficulty overcoming alcohol abuse. With that said, there is always hope regardless of which diagnosis came first.

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Hypomania Alcohol Abuse Behaviors

A common behavior of bipolar disorder is exhibiting hypomania, which is similar to mania, but involves an episode of hyperactivity that generally lasts for a period of at least four days. It has a range of different symptoms as follows:

  • Extreme happiness
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Excessive energy
  • Needing little sleep
  • Increased activity and creativity
  • Greater irritability
  • Increased agitation
  • Easily distracted

Sometimes a person who is in the midst of an episode of hypomania may start misusing alcohol in order to diminish this high mood and reduce negative symptoms. Both alcohol and illegal drugs have been used by people with bipolar disorder to manage early symptoms of hypomania, mania, and depression.

Researchers have found that hypomania symptoms are often associated with drug abuse. In fact, on average, people with bipolar disorder have their first alcoholic drink more than two years earlier than individuals without this medical condition.

Essentially, there is a change in drinking among people who experience hypomania. It often depends on the mood of a person; his or her drinking habits tend to change with their manic and depressive stages.

Bipolar and Drinking Behavior

As mentioned, people with bipolar disorder tend to have drinking behavior that fluctuates with their mood. The most complex part of having both diagnoses is that drinking behaviors can often be similar to the episodes of bipolar disorder.

Both bipolar disorder and alcoholism lead to a physical and emotional risk for any individual. Alcohol abuse as well as bipolar symptoms lead to relationship issues, financial instability, and accidental injuries.

For example, according to a 2002 paper from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol can actually enhance the symptoms of depression as well as mania. Alcohol affects the central nervous system and, thereby, triggers feelings of depression. There are people without bipolar disorder who actually become more depressed from drinking too much alcohol.

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Alcohol also reduces people’s inhibitions and can make them act in irresponsible ways. This is similar to the way bipolar disorder causes reckless behaviors. This shows that combining alcohol abuse and bipolar disorder can be very dangerous for any individual.

According to Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D., a board certified in general psychiatry and addiction psychiatry, bipolar disorder and alcoholism can be a dangerous combination. Each substance abuse disorder can worsen the severity of the other. As such, having both conditions increases the risk of mood swings, depression, violence, and even suicide.  

Bipolar Alcoholic Traits

Interestingly enough, bipolar binge drinking is not rare and can actually be a trait of the mental health condition. Abusing alcohol or drugs including binge drinking is very common among people suffering manic episodes. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that approximately 40 percent of people with bipolar disorder have abused drugs or alcohol at some point in their lifetime.

While alcohol and pain pills act like a depressant and reduce the symptoms of mania, stimulants such as cocaine have boosted people’s feelings of depression. Along with binge drinking, bipolar alcoholic traits involve the following:

  • Impaired judgement and impulsive actions
  • Sleeping very little
  • Unrealistic beliefs about one’s abilities
  • Acting recklessly without considering the potential danger

Finding Treatment for Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol Abuse

If you are looking to find peace and live a life free from alcohol as well as the mood swings of bipolar disorder, there are many professionals out there who have experience with helping people in your situation overcome this difficulty.

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If you or someone you know needs help with Alcohol abuse and Bipolar Disorder Find Addiction Rehabs is here to help. Call anytime 7 days a week 24 hours a day. Find Addiction Rehabs can help you find the experts and resources you need to get clean.