Bipolar disorder, once more commonly known as manic depression, is a mental health disorder causing “unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Bipolar disorder in itself is a challenging condition and, for some who struggle with this disease, difficult to manage. Bipolar disorder requires careful monitoring and compliance – a commitment from patients to take their prescribed medications daily and as described as well as follow through with talk therapy and other treatment regimens. Substance abuse or alcohol addiction further complicates treatment.
Unfortunately, it’s quite common for people who struggle with bipolar disorder to also 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.
We’ve put together this comprehensive guide to provide insight into the challenges presented by comorbid (simultaneously occurring) bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction and to present 15 ways to unmask these illnesses and begin the road to recovery.
The following resources offer information on the relationship between bipolar disorder and addiction, examining the theories that may explain the high incidence of comorbidity between the two conditions and providing insight into the challenges faced by people with this combination of mental health disorders.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) explains that multiple theories have been presented to explain the link between bipolar disorder and alcoholism, yet the specific link still isn’t fully understood. There is some evidence to suggest an underlying genetic component contributing to both diseases.
But perhaps more importantly, “This comorbidity also has implications for diagnosis and treatment. Alcohol use may worsen the clinical course of bipolar disorder, making it harder to treat. There has been little research on the appropriate treatment for comorbid patients. Some studies have evaluated the effects of valproate, lithium, and naltrexone, as well as psychosocial interventions, in treating alcoholic bipolar patients, but further research is needed,” the NIAAA explains.
The report notes that the National Institute of Mental Health’s Epidemiologic Catchment Area (ECA) study in 1990 found astonishing rates of comorbid alcohol abuse disorders among those with bipolar disorder. Specifically:
According to the American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC), people with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol. According to statistics presented by the American Journal of Managed Care, 25% to 50% of people with bipolar disorder have at least one comorbid mental health disorder. Individuals with bipolar disorder are three times more likely to develop alcohol abuse or dependence. In one study of patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder also had:
Other studies summarized by the AJMC find similarly high rates of co-occurrence among people who struggle with bipolar disorder. “Similarly, the NCS has reported that 6.5% of alcoholic men and 10.6% of alcoholic women have a lifetime history of mania. Among the individuals diagnosed with bipolar I disorder in the NCS study, 71% reported at least 1 lifetime substance use disorder; 61% reported alcohol dependence; 64.2% reported alcohol abuse; 40.7% reported drug dependence; and 46.1% reported drug abuse.”
The primary challenge for those with co-occurring bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse disorder or alcohol addiction is that the emotional instability common among people with bipolar disorder can make it particularly challenging to comply with the guidelines of a treatment plan or recovery program. According to DualDiagnosis.org, a treatment plan or rehabilitation program specifically designed to address the challenges of complex mental health disorders is the key to recovery, as trained specialists are able to design treatment programs that successfully address co-occurring conditions, avoiding the complications presented by symptoms of one disorder that hinder the treatment of another.
Diagnosing patients with comorbid bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction proves especially challenging even for skilled and experienced healthcare providers. The following resources offer information on diagnostic challenges and approaches as well as information for those who may be struggling with both conditions on what to expect on the path to a diagnosis.
After the diagnostic hurdle is overcome, the path to recovery can begin. The following resources provide valuable information on the approach to treatment for people who struggle 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 and many people struggling with both disorders are able to lead normal lives and maintain long-term health. The following resources offer valuable insights on the key elements of a long-term recovery.
Struggling with both bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction is not an easy path to take, yet those who suffer from both mental health disorders don’t have a choice in the matter. That said, while the road to recovery may seem long, windy, and rife with obstacles, recovery and long-term well-being is 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.