Substance Abuse and Bipolar Disorder

alcohol
Credit to flickr.com user Zhao. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Sometimes, the symptoms of bipolar disorder–including periods of elevated mood, depression, and irritability–are too difficult to deal with. Often, people turn to drugs and alcohol to try to cope.

“Some people attempt to treat symptoms of their mental illness with substances, but substance abuse can activate or prolong symptoms,” Marissa Krick, a writer for DrugRehab.com, said in an email.

Krick cited studies saying that up to 60 percent of people who suffer from bipolar disorder confess that they’ve also abused drugs or alcohol. People who suffer symptoms of acute mania or bipolar II disorder are significantly more likely to abuse benzodiazepine and alcohol than people who suffer from depression, according to the Zurich Cohort Study. In addition, a history of substance abuse complicates recovery from acute manic states.

The writers at DrugRehab.com have penned an extensive report on substance abuse in conjunction with bipolar disorder. It’s worth a read. According to the report, “Substance abuse makes symptoms of bipolar disorder worse and decreases the benefits of standard treatment. People tend to take longer to recover, spend more time in health facilities and be more likely to contemplate suicide when they misuse substances during treatment.”

But there is hope. Rehabilitation facilities can treat both substance abuse and bipolar disorder concurrently. Treatment for substance abuse starts with a detoxification process, whereas treatment for bipolar disorder involves medication and behavioral therapy. Patients going through drug or alcohol withdrawal are kept as comfortable as possible.

Author: Cassandra Stout

Freelance writer Cassandra Stout blogs weekly at the award-winning Bipolar Parent, a comprehensive resource for parents with mental illnesses. She also blogs monthly at the International Bipolar Foundation website (IPBF.org). Her work has been published in the anthology, How the Light Gets In. Cassandra holds degrees from the University of Arizona in Creative Writing and Journalism. She has been a judge for the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association literary contest for nine years, where her memoir, Committed, recently placed as a finalist. She balances her literary work with raising her children, feeding her cat, and managing her bipolar disorder.

15 thoughts on “Substance Abuse and Bipolar Disorder”

  1. I saw my father attempt to medicate his bipolar one disorder with Valium and alcohol; as you can imagine, those substances did nothing but cause him harm. I went through a similar pattern and I almost died from substance abuse. I take this subject very seriously and so I appreciate your comprehensive post about substance abuse and bipolar disorder.

    1. Oh, Dyane! I’m so sorry to hear about your struggles with substance abuse, and your father’s struggles as well! I can’t even imagine how difficult that must have been. Thank you for sharing your story, and I’m glad you’re still here with us.

      1. Thanks, my dear! It’s hard to see all the booze around me sometimes, but giving it up was worth being depression-free. (I had to stop alcohol in order to take the MAOI.) Xo

    2. Hi, do you have any views on what is ‘abuse’? A bottle of wine, five to six nights a week? Does that cross the line? Sorry to ask… who else can I ask? I try to hide it a bit.

      1. My psychiatrist is actually an addiction specialist and he said he thought that more than a couple glasses of wine was indicate indicative of a problem. For me personally it’s when the person starts getting nasty.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! I’m sorry you don’t like my findings. In answer to your comment to Dyane (and I hope you don’t mind me answering as well!), the Mayo Clinic recommends no more than 5 fluid ounces of wine per day for women of all ages and men older than 65, and no more than 10 fluid ounces per day for men age 65 and younger. I’m not sure if a bottle a day crosses a line or not. It really depends on how the alcohol affects your day-to-day life. I’m sure Dyane will have a more concrete answer, sorry! Good luck, and thanks again for your comments!

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