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You’re Not Alone: Battling Bipolar Disorder and Drug Addiction

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Many people suffer from bipolar disorder and drug addiction. Here’s how to recognize the symptoms — and how to seek help when you need it.

People struggle with addiction for many reasons. Drugs and alcohol might be a means to cope with a traumatic event, day-to-day stressors, or even boredom. Many times, mental health disorders, such as depression or bipolar disorder, are also a factor. Mental health disorders, also called co-occurring disorders, require separate treatment from drug addiction, which is why it’s so important to seek professional help. Without a diagnosis, you may not even know that you have symptoms of a mental health disorder. A personalized assessment at the start of drug addiction treatment will often identify co-occurring disorders to help you get the treatment you need.

Below, we’ll look at bipolar disorder, one of the most common mental health disorders occurring alongside addiction. Here’s what you need to know about the symptoms, treatment, and when to seek help. 

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a psychiatric condition that was previously referred to as manic depression. The disorder can cause you to have dramatic changes in mood, ranging from highly energized to extremely depressed. You may find that when you’re depressed, you lose interest in normal activities or feel sad the majority of the time. As your mood swings from one extreme to the next, you may feel incredibly happy, then tense or agitated. You may also find that these emotional rollercoasters alter your behavior, affect your sleep or cause poor judgment. For example, one day you’ll be interested in completing numerous exciting tasks; the next, you may have no energy at all and want to hide from the world. 

Individuals with bipolar disorder may only experience emotional disturbances a few times per year, or they may experience them daily. The disorder can be treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. If you suffer from the symptoms of bipolar disorder, it’s common to also suffer from addiction to drugs or alcohol. 


Bipolar Disorder Symptoms 

The symptoms of bipolar disorder can include depression, mania, and hypomania, a milder form of mania. Hypomania may cause you to feel somewhat hyperactive or agitated, but without the dramatically extreme emotions that often occur with mania. Manic episodes may cause you to experience feelings of overwhelming happiness, racing thoughts, or strong urges to engage in risky behaviors. Mania can sometimes trigger psychosis, as well. Psychosis is a full break from reality where the world around you stops making sense. This requires medication to treat and may require hospitalization. 

The major depression phase of bipolar disorder can make your daily life difficult to manage. You may find that you feel sad all the time, or that you experience severe fatigue. Activities that you previously enjoyed may no longer give you the same enjoyment. You may be unable to relax, or you may want to sleep all the time. You may find it difficult to concentrate, or feel that the efforts you’re putting in to your daily tasks are worthless. The National Institute for Mental health is a great resource for more information on bipolar disorder. 


Treating Bipolar Disorder 

The treatment for bipolar disorder typically includes ongoing medication management and talk therapy. It may require a combination of medications, and trying out several different combinations may be necessary before you get treatment that works the best. Psychiatrists often prescribe antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and antidepressants to help treat bipolar disorder. Numerous types of therapy can be helpful, including family-focused therapy, lifestyle-focused therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other talk therapies. 


Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders were previously referred to as dual diagnosis disorders. The term refers to a substance abuse disorder alongside a personality disorder or mental illness. If you have co-occurring disorders, you have more than one condition at the same time, such as bipolar disorder and drug addiction. Mental health disorders can be managed with therapy and medication, but it’s important that each condition is treated and managed separately. Otherwise, you’ll only be handling half of your symptoms. 

The possible combinations of disorders that can co-occur are numerous. They affect individual patients’ lives in various ways, making no one set of co-occurring disorders exactly like another. The diagnosis simply occurs when you have the symptoms of two different disorders which are distinguishable from one another. Some of the symptoms may overlap, but in order to receive the correct diagnosis, there must be several symptoms of each disorder at the same time. 

Co-occurring disorders can be caused by both your environment and your genetics. However, individual disorders can also build upon one another. If you suffer from a psychiatric illness, you’re more likely to develop a substance abuse issue. If you suffer from addiction, you may experience psychological symptoms. Both affect your mental health and both must be treated. 

If you suffer from mental illness, you are more likely to develop a substance abuse issue in order to cope with your psychological symptoms. However, in some cases your support system or your environment may make this more likely. If your environment causes more stress, you’ll have a harder time adjusting and may have more issues with addiction, especially if illicit drugs are readily available. On the other hand, a strong support system can make it easier to cope with psychological symptoms without turning to drugs.

When to Seek Help

You may find that when you’re in the middle of a symptomatic outbreak or struggling with addiction it can be difficult to know that you need help. However, there are some clear warning signs to keep an eye out for. 

If you notice that you or a loved one are experiencing the following, it may be time to seek help: 

  • Increased Irritability
  • Feeling Aggressive 
  • Overall Changes in Your Attitude 
  • Lethargy 
  • Depression 
  • Dramatic Changes in Friends 
  • Dramatic Changes in Daily Habits
  • Shifted Priorities 
  • Suddenly Participating in Criminal Activity

Contact a treatment center near you to learn more about treatment for co-occurring disorders, or reach out to your family practitioner for help. They should be able to advise you about where to begin seeking treatment for bipolar disorder and drug addiction. If you feel that you are in danger of hurting yourself or anyone else, contact emergency services in your area immediately. 

Starting Treatment 

Once you’ve decided to seek treatment, the facility you choose will start the process with intake, which allows the healthcare team to get to know more about you. Typically you’ll go through several meetings, a medical evaluation, and drug screening, as well as psychological exams. This enables the staff to design a plan that takes into account your specific medical and psychological history, to include any co-occurring disorders that you may have. You’ll also be asked to describe your domestic environment and how your work, home, and personal life functions, so that the appropriate support system can be put into place. 

The treatment program that you go through will be created to help you build a life with a semblance of normalcy. This may mean treating more than just your substance abuse issues. If you have symptoms of a co-occurring disorder like anxiety or depression, you’ll also undergo specific treatment for these issues so that you can continue to manage them once you’ve been discharged. 

One of the most important steps of recovery is going through a medical detoxification process. You have to be sober before you can truly start recovery, but it’s often not safe to attempt to get there on your own. In a treatment facility, doctors and nurses can help provide you with medication and medical supervision while you go through withdrawals. This ensures that you avoid many of the harmful physical effects. After this, you’ll be ready to begin to work on a long term recovery program and additional psychological counseling. 

Many treatment centers utilize cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). This type of therapy is centered around challenging your unhealthy beliefs and developing strong coping mechanisms. When you work through this therapy while in treatment, you’ll develop strong skills for managing stress and dramatic emotions, without turning to drugs or alcohol. 

You may also be prescribed psychiatric medication and other types of therapy to treat your symptoms.

Have questions about treatment options?
Call us at 855-430-9426 to speak with a recovery specialist.


The Importance of Coping Mechanisms

As you work through CBT, you’ll also build a toolbox of coping mechanisms that you’ll be able to utilize to help you manage negative emotional states and unhealthy thoughts. These may include new ways to look at the world, techniques for journaling, questions to ask yourself, meditation exercises, or other methods that help you step back and see a situation in a different light. It may take numerous sessions with your therapist to help you learn about what will work best for you. It’s important to communicate clearly with them in each session and to keep an open mind, so that you can learn the tools that you’ll need. 

After you’ve found some coping mechanisms that you feel work well, you’ll need to practice them repeatedly until they’re a habit. Applying these skills in your daily life and using them to handle negative emotions, stress, and overly emotional situations can help you learn to avoid reaching out for drugs instead. 

The goal of CBT is to teach you strategies that you can use for the rest of your life to handle stress in a healthy way. You’ll need to practice utilizing the skills that you’ve learned to determine which ones work best. As your life changes and you develop new stressors, the therapist can help you discover new tools to adjust to these issues, as well.

Remember that Recovery is a Journey

As you begin the process of recovery, it’s important to keep in mind that recovery is a journey. When you reach out for help, you’re taking the first step of many. You may experience relapses, you may struggle along the way, you may even get lost on the path. But as long as you keep moving forward, you’ll be taking more steps toward your destination — leading a healthy, productive life free from addiction. Call the number below to speak with a knowledgeable intake professional today about how you can take that first step. 

Written By: Sprout Editorial Team

The Sprout Health Group editorial team is passionate about addiction treatment, recovery and mental health issues. Every article is expert-reviewed.