The Warning Signs of Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse

Like many conditions and diseases, bipolar disorder is often recognized by the behaviors and feelings the affected person has. Substance abuse is much the same, in that how a person acts and the effects of those behaviors are indicators that there may be a problem. Not all the symptoms of the two conditions are the same, although some of them may overlap. To fully understand what to look for if you suspect that someone you love may suffer from one, or both, of these conditions, it is important to know what, precisely, the symptoms are.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

There are several varying degrees of bipolar disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by industry professionals to identify them. Each one has a different combination of characteristics, broken down as follows:

  • Bipolar I disorder:  A severe disorder that can result in hospitalization during manic episodes that last for at least seven days, coupled with depressive events that last at least two weeks
  • Bipolar II disorder:  Less severe than bipolar I disorder, this condition is marked by depressive episodes with no truly manic occurrences, although moderate mania is generally present.
  • Bipolar disorder not otherwise specified:  Swings in mood and behaviors occur with shorter bouts of mania or depression as defined for dipolar I disorder, but still require treatment
  • Cyclothymic disorder:  Mild bipolar disorder that lasts for a period longer than two years, but the symptoms are not severe enough for any of the other types’ criteria
  • Rapid-cycling bipolar disorder: Occurs when an individual shifts between mania, hypomania, mixed symptoms or depression more than four times in one year

There are two extreme behaviors in many instances of bipolar disorder. An individual may feel elated or highly excitable in the manic state and deeply depressed and hopeless when they are experiencing the other end of the spectrum. Therefore, the symptoms one must exhibit will vary depending on the state in which one is currently living.

The symptoms one should look for in the depressive state include feelings of hopelessness, inability to concentrate, changes in eating habits and sleeping patterns, thoughts of suicide or death, and a lack of interest or motivation to participate in activities that were once a pleasure, such a playing sports, sex or even going to work.

When an individual is suffering from the manic state of bipolar disorder, they may have trouble focusing their attention on one subject or be easily distracted, increase their rate of speech significantly, feel restless or have little desire to sleep, as well as participate in high-risk activities, ranging from shopping sprees that result in overspending to impulsive, unsafe sex or business decisions that make little sense.

Symptoms of Substance Abuse

When looking at the symptoms of bipolar disorders and the associated behaviors, it is sometimes easy to confuse them with the effects of some drugs of abuse. For instance, if an individual consumes amphetamines, they may appear manic. Methamphetamine, in particular, can cause an individual to talk too much or too quickly, stay awake for hours or days at a time, increase confusion, and decrease the ability to concentrate; long-term use can create problems with mood.

Opioids, alcohol and other CNS depressants can create symptoms of abuse that can mimic the depressive state of bipolar disorder. Someone who is abusing heroin may sleep more often than normal, while an individual who abuses prescription opioids may slow down the function of the brain which can appear to others as a lack of interest in what is going on around them.

Getting Help for Addiction and Bipolar Disorder

admissions-pageWhen you suspect that someone you love may be affected by a bipolar disorder, it is important to get help as early as possible. This is even more important if you suspect they have already engaged in dangerous drug use. Many individuals who suffer from bipolar disorders and other mental illnesses turn to drugs or alcohol in an effort to feel normal. As a result, it is common practice in evidence-based treatment programs, like those offered here at Axis, to address both conditions at the same time, in the same plan, tailored to the specific needs of the individual.

Additionally, it is important to note that treatment doesn’t have to be voluntary to be effective. The experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse have found that even individuals undergoing treatment as a condition of the sentences they receive as the result of a criminal conviction can and do benefit from the process. If you have a friend or loved one that is refusing to get help for their bipolar disorder and addiction issues, please contact us here at Axis for information that may be able to help you point them in the right direction.