Bipolar Disorder & Alcoholism | Symptoms & Treatment

Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS

on July 29, 2023

Many people with this bipolar disorder develop alcoholism, often after misusing alcohol to self-medicate. People with these conditions can recover by seeking dual diagnosis treatment. This type of treatment can include medical detox, therapy, and medication.

In the United States, about 7 million adults live with bipolar disorder. This mental health condition causes intense shifts between mania (an unusually high mood) and depression (an unusually low mood). 

Many people with bipolar disorder misuse alcohol, which often leads to alcohol use disorder (AUD). Fortunately, both bipolar disorder and alcoholism are treatable. 

Co-Occurring Bipolar Disorder & Alcoholism

About 45% of people with bipolar disorder also have alcoholism. Researchers have not determined why these conditions co-occur so often. However, genetics likely play a role, as certain genetic traits linked with bipolar disorder may also increase your risk of alcoholism. 

In addition, many people get addicted to alcohol after using it to self-medicate their bipolar symptoms. 

In particular, they may drink to ease depressive symptoms, such as sadness, numbness, and loss of interest. While alcohol can temporarily boost your mood, it only makes your mental health worse in the long run.

Also, some people with bipolar disorder develop alcoholism because they frequently misuse alcohol while manic. Indeed, mania can lower your inhibitions, making you more likely to engage in heavy drinking. 

No matter the cause, co-occurring bipolar disorder and alcoholism pose serious dangers. The conditions tend to make each other worse, increasing the risk of aggression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and other issues. 

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Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder causes both manic episodes and depressive episodes. The most common symptoms of a manic episode include:

  • abnormally high mood
  • racing thoughts
  • increased talkativeness
  • increased physical activity or jumpiness
  • irritability or anger
  • abnormally high confidence 
  • lack of sleep
  • impulsivity and poor judgment, which can lead to unhealthy behaviors such as excessive spending or unsafe sex

The most common symptoms of a depressive episode include:

  • persistent feelings of sadness, numbness, hopelessness, or worthlessness
  • loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • isolation 
  • fatigue
  • oversleeping
  • eating too much or not enough
  • memory problems
  • suicidal thoughts or attempts

The severity of a person’s manic and depressive episodes depends on the type of bipolar disorder they have. There are three types: bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, and cyclothymia.

Types Of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar I disorder causes severe manic episodes that last at least 7 days and sometimes lead to hospitalization. These episodes may involve psychosis, a loss of connection with reality that can cause paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations. 

Most people with bipolar I disorder also experience depressive episodes, which usually last at least two weeks. 

Bipolar II disorder causes depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes. Hypomania is a mild form of mania that typically doesn’t involve psychosis. 

Cyclothymia causes depressive and hypomanic symptoms that are not as intense or long-lasting as bipolar I or II symptoms.

Symptoms Of Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcoholism makes you feel unable to stop drinking alcohol despite negative consequences, such as job loss, damaged relationships, or health problems. Other common symptoms include:

  • frequent cravings for alcohol
  • tolerance (needing increasingly larger or more frequent drinks to feel the effects of alcohol)
  • physical dependence (experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea and anxiety, when you don’t drink)
  • avoidance of family members and friends
  • loss of motivation
  • decline in personal hygiene
  • drinking in unsafe situations, such as while driving, swimming, or operating heavy machinery

Dual Diagnosis Treatment For Co-Occurring Bipolar & Alcohol Use Disorder

If you or someone you love experiences the above symptoms, seek help at Ohio Recovery Center’s dual diagnosis treatment program

Our programs offer personalized treatment plans for people experiencing a substance use disorder (such as alcoholism) alongside another mental health disorder (such as bipolar disorder).

Our dual diagnosis program is inpatient, meaning you live at our treatment center and receive 24/7 care. Other programs are outpatient, meaning you live at home and regularly visit the treatment center. 

In general, inpatient care is recommended for people with moderate-to-severe conditions, while outpatient care works best for those with mild conditions and supportive homes.

When you enter an inpatient or outpatient dual diagnosis treatment program, you will receive a personalized treatment plan. Most plans include the following services:

Medical Detox

During medical detox, doctors help you slowly and safely get alcohol out of your system. They will monitor your physical and mental health to keep your withdrawal experience as comfortable as possible. They may also prescribe medications to ease certain withdrawal symptoms. 

Therapy

In therapy, a mental health professional teaches you healthy ways to cope with your bipolar disorder so you don’t turn to alcohol abuse. The most popular type of therapy for bipolar disorder and other mood disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

In CBT, your therapist helps you change unhelpful beliefs and behaviors that make your mental health worse.

Many treatment plans also include group therapy, in which you learn important coping strategies alongside other people recovering from substance abuse and co-occurring disorders. 

Medication

People with bipolar disorder often benefit from mental health medication. The most common bipolar medications are mood stabilizers, which can reduce mood swings. Some people also take antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anti-anxiety medications. 

In addition, your doctors may prescribe medications to ease alcohol cravings and withdrawal symptoms. The most common medications used for this purpose are acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone.

Aftercare Planning

Before you complete treatment, your doctors will help you create an aftercare plan to reduce your risk of relapse. This plan may include services such as:

  • ongoing therapy
  • support groups
  • wellness activities, such as exercise, journaling, and meditation
  • assistance with education, employment, or housing

To learn more about dual diagnosis treatment, please reach out to Ohio Recovery Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer comprehensive, evidence-based care to help you or your loved one build a fulfilling life.

  1. Current Psychiatry Reports https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3730445/
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-2/103-108.htm
  3. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus https://medlineplus.gov/bipolardisorder.html
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration https://www.samhsa.gov/medications-substance-use-disorders

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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