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How Does Alcohol Abuse Affect Bipolar Disorder?

Alcohol abuse is unfortunately common among people who have bipolar disorder. This has prompted researchers to explore many questions, such as What is the relationship between bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse? and How does alcohol affect bipolar disorder?

Alcohol Abuse & Bipolar Disorder

To understand how alcohol abuse can affect bipolar disorder it can be important to first learn some basic information about this condition.

Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health concern that is characterized by dramatic swings in mood and energy level. 

People who have bipolar disorder may have periods of mania or hypomania, when they experience elevated mood, increased energy and activity, and a tendency toward impulsive and reckless behaviors. They may also go through times of depression, when they are overwhelmed by pervasive sadness, persistent fatigue, and frequent thoughts of death and dying.

There are three distinct types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, and cyclothymia. The different types of bipolar disorder are differentiated by what types of symptoms and episodes a person has. However, all three types of bipolar disorder share one common element. They can raise a person’s risk for alcohol abuse. 

How Does Alcohol Abuse Affect Bipolar Disorder?

Alcohol abuse affects bipolar disorder in multiple ways. This usually depends on the type of episode or symptoms a person is experiencing. Here are examples of how alcohol can impact someone who is experiencing symptoms of mania, hypomania, or depression:

Alcohol Abuse During Manic or Hypomanic Episodes

As we alluded to in the previous section, one of the characteristics of a manic or hypomanic episode is the urge to engage in impulsive and potentially dangerous behaviors. One such behavior that is common during manic or hypomanic episodes is alcohol abuse. 

During a manic or hypomanic episode, a person may feel that they are virtually incapable of being stopped or harmed. This inflated self-confidence can lead them to go on wild shopping sprees, have unprotected sex, gamble with large sums of money, drive recklessly, and abuse alcohol or another drug.

Alcohol abuse can diminish their inhibitions and impair their judgment even further, which can put the person in greater danger.

Alcohol Abuse During Depressive Episodes

During depressive episodes, a person’s self-esteem may be virtually non-existent. The grandiosity of the manic episode may be replaced with guilt, shame, and self-hatred. Depressive periods may also involve recurrent thoughts of death and a general sense of hopelessness and/or helplessness.

When a person is in the midst of a depressive episode, they may turn to alcohol in an attempt to escape their negative emotions. This, of course, is a misguided effort. Although alcohol may provide a fleeting sense of relief, continued alcohol abuse is likely to push a person deeper into depression. 

Magnified Symptoms & Increased Risk

So, how does alcohol affect bipolar disorder? It can magnify all types of symptoms (mania, hypomania, and depression). 

In cases of mania and hypomania, alcohol can cause a person to act even more erratically, which increases their risk for both immediate and long-term harm. 

In times of depression, alcohol can cause them to feel a deeper sense of despair, which could raise their risk for negative outcomes such as self-harm or suicidal behaviors. 

Dual Diagnosis: Alcohol Addiction & Bipolar Disorder

In April 2020, the journal European Psychiatry published an analysis of several studies on the connection between alcohol abuse and bipolar disorder. The authors of this analysis reported the following:

  • More than 33% of people who had bipolar disorder also had alcohol use disorder (the clinical term for alcoholism). 
  • Among men with bipolar disorder, the rate of co-occurring alcohol use disorder was about 40%. 
  • About 20% of women who had bipolar disorder also struggled with addiction to alcohol.

Among clinicians, the simultaneous presence of a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder is referred to as dual diagnosis. 

Co-occurring bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder is a common form of dual diagnosis. The prevalence of this type of dual diagnosis brings up another answer to the question, how does alcohol affect bipolar disorder: It can complicate the treatment process. 

On their own, both alcoholism and bipolar disorder can be challenging conditions to treat. When a person has both conditions at the same time, the difficulty of helping a person achieve improved health can be magnified considerably.

Of course, this is not meant to imply that bipolar disorder and alcoholism are not treatable. It simply acknowledges that, as is the case whenever a person has more than one mental or behavioral health disorder, treatment becomes more complex with each additional illness. 

The good news is that these disorders are treatable. With proper care, a person can end their alcohol use and learn how to manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder. 

Treatment Options for Alcoholism & Bipolar Disorder

Our Georgia dual diagnosis treatment for bipolar disorder and alcoholism will typically involve medication and therapy. Depending on the severity of the individual’s struggle with alcohol addiction, they may also need to complete detox.

Certain prescription medications can ease some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Medication may also be employed to help people get through alcohol withdrawal and maintain their recovery once they have stopped drinking.

Therapy for bipolar disorder can help people manage the symptoms that are not alleviated by medications. During therapy sessions, people can learn how to respond in the healthiest manner when they feel the onset of manic, hypomanic, or depressive symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are two examples of evidence-based therapies that have proved to be beneficial for people who have bipolar disorder.

Therapy can also be extremely helpful for people who are working to gain a solid foothold in recovery from alcohol addiction. Therapy sessions can be ideal forums to gain important information about the disease of addiction, learn how to identify triggers, practice relapse prevention skills, and discover the value of sharing support with other members of the recovery community.

With effective therapy and the right type of medication, people who are struggling with bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse can make significant progress toward a healthier and more hopeful future.

Begin Treatment for Alcoholism & Bipolar Disorder in Atlanta, Georgia

Peachtree Wellness Solutions provides comprehensive care for adults whose lives have been disrupted by a wide range of mental and behavioral health challenges, including bipolar disorder and co-occurring alcoholism. Treatment options at our center in Atlanta, Georgia, include residential mental health treatment, a partial hospitalization program (PHP in Atlanta), and an intensive outpatient program in Atlanta (IOP). If you have been struggling with a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and alcoholism, or if you know someone who is, please know that help is available and treatment works. To learn more, give us a call or visit our admissions page.