Understanding Bipolar Disorder

For people living with bipolar, the emotional pendulum swings far and wide between intense emotional highs and all-consuming feelings of worthlessness — sometimes within hours or minutes. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, sufferers spend an average of 10 years trying to handle it on their own before they get the help they need.1

Understanding the Condition

Bipolar Disorder word cloudPeople with bipolar disorder experience conflicting symptoms, making the disease difficult to diagnose and manage without expert help, notes the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Symptoms include moments of extreme energy, known as mania, to moments of extreme sadness, known as depression. The type of bipolar disorder a person has depends on how quickly the person moves from mania to depression (if at all), and the severity of symptoms.2

Some in a manic state feel intense joy, immense power and a burst of creative energy, while others experience anger and irritability. The range of mania symptoms include the following:

  • Rapid, incoherent speech
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Insomnia
  • Impulsive spending
  • Reckless sex
  • Grandiose thoughts2

Bipolar depression is similar to the symptoms experienced by people with major depression. People may feel:

  • Disinterested in friends, family members or activities
  • Lethargic and slow
  • Worthless or hopeless
  • Unable to make decisions
  • Fatigued
  • Suicidal
  • Numb or sad2

People with more severe symptoms experience blended episodes in which they feel both sets of symptoms at the very same time. Some people experience only mania and some only depression. Others experience no symptoms at all for long periods, until the disorder manifests again.2

Prevalence and Risk Factors

The number of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder remains low, only around 2.6 percent of the U.S. adult population. Experts worry, however, many people go undiagnosed. Around 83 percent of people diagnosed have severe cases. This suggests only people with significant symptoms and dysfunction get a diagnosis.3

In studying the disorder, researchers see a genetic link. An identical twin with a sibling who has bipolar disorder also has the disorder 60 to 80 percent of the time. When the twins are non-identical, the risk drops to 20 percent. Genes aren’t the only factor and researchers believe there are environmental triggers that bring on symptoms.4

Self-Medication and Addiction

Woman self-medicatingBipolar disorder also puts people at greater risk for developing an addiction. Almost two-thirds of sufferers experience a substance use disorder at some point in life. Some people abuse drugs to manage a depressive episode after coming down from the high of a manic episode. Drugs like heroin, prescription painkillers or methamphetamine create a fleeting period of euphoria, a feeling unavailable in the depths of a bipolar depressive cycle.5

The impulsivity of a manic episode also increases a person’s chance of taking high doses of drugs or alcohol. Some sufferers believe taking drugs puts them back in control. Unfortunately, any control is temporary, as substances shift people from one extreme to another.

The Impact of Addiction

Anyone can develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol. People with bipolar disorder may be more vulnerable, because they often have a much lower quality of life. Researchers found that people with bipolar disorder and an addiction had lower scores of general well-being and higher scores of addiction severity, when compared to addicted people without bipolar disorder.6

Addictive drugs cause many of the same signs and symptoms as bipolar disorder, so it’s often difficult for someone who uses drugs to receive an accurate diagnosis. Furthermore, managing the disease requires careful attention to taking medications appropriately. Addictions, however,bring chaos, making it hard for someone to stick to a schedule.

Getting Control

The OaksBipolar disorder is a chronic condition, without a cure. People who live successfully with the disorder learn to manage it with medication and evidence-based therapy. For people who suffer with bipolar disorder and addiction, specialized treatment is necessary. People with co-occurring conditions need an integrated treatment plan that treats both conditions at the same time.

At The Oaks at La Paloma, we specialize in treating co-occurring conditions. We provide in-depth counseling sessions that educate and empower, and we use medication management to help people gain control of their mental illnesses, as well as their cravings for drugs. Please call our toll-free helpline to speak to an admissions coordinator about our programs.


1Types of Bipolar Disorder.” Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. 2016. Accessed 26 June 2017.

2Bipolar Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health. April 2016. Accessed 26 June 2017.

3Bipolar Disorder Among Adults.” NIMH. 2005. Accessed 26 June 2017.

4 Wein, Harrison, ed. “Major Ups and Downs: Bipolar Disorder Brings Extreme Mood Swings.” NIH News in Health. May 2010. Accessed 26 June 2017.

5 Bauer, M.S., et.al. “Prevalence and distinct correlates of anxiety, substance, and combined comorbidity in a multi-site public sector sample with bipolar disorder.” Journal of Affective Disorders. Vol. 85, No. 3, pp. 301-315, April 2005. Accessed 26 June 2017.

6 Singh, J., et.al. “Quality of life and its correlates in patients with dual diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder and substance dependence.” Bipolar Disorders, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 187–191, 11 March 2005. Accessed 26 June 2017.

7Alcohol Use Disorder.” NIAAA. Accessed 26 June 2017.