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Bipolar disorder affects more than five million Americans, and about 40% of this population also suffers from addiction. The correlation is too big to ignore, and researchers have discovered proven links between the two conditions. 

Here is a comprehensive overview of the relationship between bipolar disorder and addiction to drugs and alcohol. 

Bipolar Disorder Explained 

Bipolar disorder is a mental condition formerly known as manic depression. There are two types of bipolar disorder: Bipolar I Disorder and Bipolar II Disorder. Both types are characterized by periods of depression and manic states. To this end, this condition exhibits a range of dramatically different symptoms. 

The manic state is characterized by an energetic feeling, and symptoms include: 

  • Hyperactivity 
  • Racing thoughts and talkativeness 
  • Short attention span 
  • Poor sleep 
  • Self-confidence 
  • Obsession with certain goals 
  • Engaging in risky behavior 

The depression state, on the other hand, is characterized by symptoms such as: 

  • Feeling hopeless and depressed
  • Poor concentration 
  • Suicidal thoughts 
  • Restlessness 
  • Weight loss or gain 
  • Insomnia or oversleeping 
  • Isolation 
  • Feeling fatigued 
  • Feeling guilty for no reason 

These manic and depression states can last for periods between two weeks and several months, depending on factors such as the type of bipolar disorder. The confusion that arises from the sudden change in these symptoms pushes many patients to experiment with drugs and alcohol, resulting in addiction. 

Addiction Explained 

Addiction is a broad condition that takes on many forms and exhibits many symptoms. It can involve using alcohol, drugs, and other substances that alter your perception or engaging in activities such as excessive eating and sex. 

However, it all involves a psychological and physical dependence on a substance to cope with everyday life. People experiencing bipolar disorder are usually addicted to alcohol and common drugs such as marijuana and prescription drugs. Some people experiencing extreme symptoms of bipolar disorder may also adopt the use of hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin

The Connection between Bipolar Disorder & Addiction 

Many of the symptoms of bipolar disorder may be mistaken for symptoms of addiction. For example, symptoms of manic, such as hyperactivity and short attention spans, may be mistaken for the effects of taking drugs. Additionally, symptoms of depression, such as isolation and restlessness, may be mistaken for the effects of withdrawal from drug use. 

However, a substantial number of people experiencing bipolar disorder — approximately 40% of the population, as mention — also experience addiction. Researchers have identified distinct factors explaining the high rate of addiction among people experiencing bipolar disorder. 

People experiencing bipolar disorder feel confused by the alternating symptoms. They feel elevated at one point and then get plunged so low that they contemplate suicide. Naturally, many of these people seek ways to escape the almost torturous experience, and alcohol and drugs are some of the most common options. 

For example, people experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts as a result of bipolar disorder can take alcohol to forget their troubles. Additionally, people experiencing anxiety during their manic states can take prescription drugs with mood-stabilizing effects to cope with their everyday social interactions. 

People experiencing bipolar disorder usually get relief from some of the symptoms — albeit temporarily. This encourages repetitive use of these drugs, as symptoms of bipolar disorder are also repetitive. Repetitive use leads to addiction, whereby these people need these substances not just to cope with their condition’s symptoms but because they are physically and psychologically dependent on them. 

Unfortunately, addiction eventually magnifies many of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, as the two conditions exhibit closely similar symptoms, as mentioned. For example, taking marijuana can increase the feeling of anxiety. Additionally, lack of access to these drugs can magnify depression because of withdrawal – and increase suicidal thoughts. What’s more, chronic addiction can cause other conditions such as liver disease. 

Identifying Addiction in People Experiencing Bipolar Disorder 

Symptoms of addiction and bipolar disorder may appear similar, as mentioned. To this end, it may be difficult to tell when a person experiencing bipolar disorder is also experiencing addiction. 

However, there are some tell-tale signs that make addicts stand out. For example, the shift between their manic and depression states is made more dramatic by the symptoms of addiction. Additionally, addicts tend to become even more suicidal during their depression state, and they can engage in more reckless behavior than usual during their manic state. 

Overcoming Addiction & Bipolar Disorder 

Addiction and bipolar disorder are different conditions, but they require a simultaneous treatment plan. This means blending addiction treatment with bipolar addiction treatment. There are several treatment options, including: 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying and understanding the patient’s feelings. Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme feelings on both ends of the spectrum. Additionally, the confusion that arises from these feelings pushes some patients to use alcohol and drugs as a form of escape. 

CBT helps with both conditions by addressing the patient’s feelings. For starters, it helps the patient manage bipolar disorder by helping them cope with shifts in their mood and the condition’s symptoms. Additionally, it helps with addiction treatment by eliminating the patient’s dependency on drugs and alcohol since they can cope naturally with their feelings. 


Prescription medicine can also help manage symptoms of bipolar disorder and minimize the urge to use addictive substances. Medications for bipolar disorder are designed to bring a balance between the extreme symptoms of the condition’s manic and depression phases. Popular bipolar disorder medication includes: 

  • Lithium 
  • Antipsychotics 
  • Anticonvulsants 
  • Benzodiazepines 

All medication should be prescribed by a doctor after a thorough diagnosis of the condition. Medication for addiction varies, depending on the patient’s drug of abuse. 

Getting Help With Dual Diagnosis Addiction Treatment

Bipolar disorder can feel overwhelming, and many patients often turn to alcohol and drugs to help cope with the condition’s symptoms. Unfortunately, addiction only worsens these conditions. Fortunately, there are healthier ways to cope with bipolar disorder and overcome addiction for a healthier and more comfortable everyday life. 

Do you or a loved one need help to overcome addiction and cope with bipolar disorder? Covenant Hills Treatment can help. We offer the best addiction treatment services in Orange County, CA. We also collaborate with other specialists to develop treatment plans factoring in your bipolar condition. Get in touch to learn more about how we can help.