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Bipolar disorder and addiction – How are they related?

Although bipolar disorder and addiction are not officially symptomatic of each other, they often occur concurrently.

These two conditions are commonly related to one another; therefore, many medical professionals will routinely check for substance abuse and addiction in people who have been diagnosed with bipolar mood disorder.

Bipolar and Addiction - Treatment & Recovery South Africa

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is most commonly characterised by extreme fluctuation in mood as well as general energy levels.

Although changes in mood are the most obvious signs of bipolar, there are several other negative effects that this disorder has on those who suffer with it.

These include dramatic changes in:

  • - Judgement
  • - Cognitive function
  • - Emotional states
  • - Behaviour

People who suffer with bipolar mood disorder can change rapidly and uncontrollably from a severely depressed state to an extremely manic high in a matter of days.

Generally speaking, these changes can cause:

  • - An increased risk of suicide
  • - Decline in quality of life
  • - Relationship conflicts
  • - Occupational difficulties

What causes bipolar?

Although the exact cause remains unclear, there are some factors that will contribute to developing bipolar mood disorder:

  • - Trauma - abuse, mental stress, a significant loss etc
  • - Imbalances in the chemicals of the brain – neurotransmitter imbalances
  • - Hormonal issues
  • - Long-term substance abuse

Bipolar disorder symptoms


  • - Distraction or boredom
  • - Impaired judgement
  • - Feeling exhilarated, euphoric or “on top of the world”
  • - Exaggerated self-confidence or self-importance
  • - Increased chance of engaging in risky behaviour
  • - Racing thoughts and bizarre ideas that may be acted upon
  • - Rapid talking and jumping from one topic to another


  • - Extreme sadness
  • - Weight loss or weight gain
  • - Insomnia or other sleeping abnormalities
  • - Impaired memory and concentration
  • - Inability to face the outside world
  • - Lack of enjoyment or motivation
  • - Anxiety about trivial matters
  • - Despair and hopelessness

Types of Bipolar

  • Bipolar 1 – severe and sudden fluctuations between mania and depression
  • Bipolar 2 – less severe fluctuations between mania and depression
  • Bipolar with mixed features – individuals might experience symptoms of depression and mania at the same time
  • Cyclothymia – mild depressive episodes and periods of hypomania (less extreme form of mania)
  • Rapid-cycling bipolar – characterised by multiple episodes of mania and depression which alternate rapidly. In such cases, suicide attempts and other self-destructive behaviour are more common.

Bipolar disorder and addiction

Bipolar disorder and addiction are closely related as a high percentage of people with bipolar are also suffering from some form of addiction or substance abuse.

As with most mental illnesses, people who suffer with bipolar disorder often turn to substance abuse as a means to escape from their emotional states.

During their depressive episodes, they may seek some form of substance which temporarily elevates their mood.

Furthermore, when they are feeling manic and emotionally out of control, they might indulge in a substance which numbs their thoughts and feelings.

Substance induced bipolar disorder

In addition, there are many cases where long-term drug and alcohol abuse have caused such significant damage to the chemical structure of the brain that it actually results in an individual inducing the onset of bipolar.

The most obvious change that occurs in the brain is the reward system which makes alcohol and drugs more enjoyable, thereby encouraging further abuse.

Treating bipolar disorder and addiction

This is a dual-diagnosis situation and must be treated as such. Close attention must be paid to the symptoms of mental illness as well as the behaviours associated with addiction.

When patients with a dual-diagnosis such as this one, are treated for both conditions at the same time, the treatment is generally much more successful.

Therefore, it’s crucial that staff in treatment facilities are cross-trained in substance abuse treatment as well as mental health care.

Step Away Rehabilitation Centre South Africa – Dual-diagnosis treatment facility

Our staff are compassionate and competent in dual-diagnosis treatment. We take special care when treating patients with bipolar disorder and addiction. Contact us for more information.

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