Man struggling with his alcoholism and bipolar disorder

Alcoholism and Bipolar Disorder – The Connection, Solutions, and More

Alcoholism and bipolar disorder commonly co-occur. There have been multiple proposed explanations for the association between the two, but it’s a poorly understood association. But, a few studies have shown some association between mood disorders and alcohol abuse.  

Individuals who abuse alcohol have a higher risk of having bipolar disorder. Among those with bipolar disorder, the effect of alcohol addiction is noticeable. According to a 2013 review, around 45% of individuals with bipolar disorder also struggle with alcohol use disorder (AUD).

How Does Alcoholism Affect Bipolar Disorder? 

With bipolar patients, individuals experience substantial mood changes that may vary in length, sometimes leading to manic or depressive states that last for days or even weeks at a time. Drinking alcohol can reduce the effects of bipolar disorder temporarily, as specific substances can change a person’s behavioral health or mood level, including alcohol.

For instance, if a person struggles with a depressive episode, they may attempt to boost their self-confidence and happiness by drinking alcohol. This can result in a greater desire to interact socially. Because there are also manic episodes involved with bipolar disorder, individuals often use alcohol dependence to cope with their manic symptoms. For example, manic episodes can often prevent individuals from falling asleep, and drinking alcohol can cause drowsiness.

But, it isn’t recommended that a person resort to substance use to help them cope with their symptoms. Those who do have a greater risk of developing an alcohol dependence which can make it harder for them to manage their bipolar disorder without drinking alcohol. 

On top of this, drinking alcohol can have different effects each time. If a person is experiencing a depressive episode and consumes alcohol specifically to enhance their mood or if they’re experiencing a manic episode and they turn to alcohol to induce lethargy or drowsiness, they may experience effects that can lead to more extreme versions of each event.

Alcohol’s effects on bipolar disorder include uncomfortable and more volatile symptoms regularly linked with the condition. Alcohol can change a person’s mood and cause those with bipolar disorder to experience extreme depressive or manic episodes. Consuming alcohol can cause increased excitement to participate in social activities and complete tasks and energy bursts. Drinking alcohol can also lead to feelings of anxiety or depression and decrease a person’s energy level.

Researchers haven’t found a specific link between alcohol use disorder and bipolar disorder, but there are several possibilities. Some researchers theorize that the initial appearance of AUD can trigger bipolar disorder. Others suggest that AUD and bipolar might share certain genetic risk factors.

Can Mixing Alcohol With Bipolar Disorder Damage Your Brain?

Many individuals are often tempted to consume alcohol to help them cope with their mood symptoms. Drinking a few alcoholic beverages can help a person feel more confident and relaxed and take their mind off their problems. But what is this costing them?

This temporary relief can negatively impact a person’s:

  • Mood swings
  • Medication effectiveness
  • Sleep

Essentially, this can lead to poorer bipolar management.

One 2017 study found that in individuals with alcoholism and bipolar diagnosis, the levels of their brain’s two neurotransmitters essential to learning, memory, and social conduct are substantially lower — and decreased levels have been linked with craving and impulsivity.

Research also shows alcohol consumption can make bipolar disorder more difficult to treat and potentially trigger manic behavior or depression.

Since alcohol is a depressant, it disrupts the part of a person’s brain that controls inhibition. This causes the person to be less likely to take the consequences of their actions into consideration. Some of these actions can lead to dangerous situations, like driving under the influence.

What is the Best Way to Treat Alcoholism and Bipolar Disorder Simultaneously? 

The alcoholism and bipolar disorder combination can have serious consequences if left untreated. Individuals with both conditions have a higher risk of experiencing more severe bipolar disorder symptoms. They may also have a greater chance of committing suicide.

Bipolar disorder and alcoholism are frequently treated separately. But, it’s almost always better for health professionals to treat them simultaneously (dual diagnosis) instead of having the untreated co-occurring illness bring the symptoms of the treated condition back. 

For individuals with a dual diagnosis, detox and a treatment center for their addiction aren’t enough. Often, these individuals will relapse if they don’t receive treatment for the co-occurring disorder. The individual needs to be treated for their addiction and the co-occurring mental illness.

When receiving dual diagnosis treatment for their alcoholism and mental health issue, an individual has a greater chance of sustaining a life in recovery. This makes it imperative to identify the mental health condition. 

Before beginning dual diagnosis treatment programs, a healthcare professional must first identify the person’s underlying mental health problems. Then, they’ll determine the properly integrated treatment approach.

The dual diagnosis treatment approach for a co-occurring disorder can begin during the substance abuse treatment. 

Some stages of alcoholism treatment when the individual may start working on the co-occurring mental illness are:

  • Detox stage: This is when a person is struggling with alcoholism stops drinking alcohol altogether, allowing their body to eliminate toxins from their system.
  • Residential treatment: Some people aren’t entirely ready after detox to go home. They require certain tools to avoid relapse and stay in their treatment facility round-the-clock.
  • Outpatient treatment: During this stage, the individual will continue with ongoing therapy to ensure they don’t relapse. 

The therapist and the individual will decide on the proper dual diagnosis treatment for the person’s unique needs. Sometimes, the therapist will initially decide to treat the primary condition. Other times, they’ll opt for simultaneous treatment of both disorders.

Get Dual Diagnosis Treatment with Inland Detox

Here at Inland Detox, our healthcare professionals will begin dual diagnosis treatment with detox to allow the person to rid their bodies of alcohol toxins. Once they complete detox, our healthcare professionals will begin a medication management and therapy approach to treat their alcoholism and bipolar disorder. 

Contact Inland Detox today to discuss our alcohol detoxification and addiction treatment services.