Bipolar Disorder and Alcoholism

Man fighting Bipolar Disorder and Alcoholism

Contributed by Timberline Knolls Staff Member

Bipolar Disorder and Alcoholism often times go hand in hand. Self-medicating with alcohol and/or other drugs is a common way to cope with the uncomfortable emotions associated with mental illness.

Bipolar is a chronic mental illness which affects a person’s mood and thought process. Bipolar I, is experienced in episodes of mania (lasting one or more weeks in duration) as well as depression (lasting two or more weeks in duration) which can impair a person’s judgment much like the effects of alcohol and other drugs on the brain.

Impact of Substance Abuse and Bipolar Disorder

When a person is experiencing bipolar mania and using drugs that intensify the emotions, the manic experience may become life-threatening. A short episode of mania may require immediate hospitalization to determine if that person should be diagnosed with Bipolar I.

For example, a person experiencing bipolar mania and using stimulant drugs has the potential for engaging in risk taking behaviors such as having unprotected sexual encounters with others who they may or may not know or going a couple of days without sleeping.

Woman drinking alcoholThe same may happen when a person experiencing bipolar depression and is using alcohol or drugs that intensify the emotions which in worse cases, can lead to suicide.

For example, a person experiencing bipolar depression and using other depressant drugs concurrently has the potential for feelings of despair and feelings that daily tasks just take too much effort to complete such as feeding, bathing, and getting out of bed; all these can lead to thoughts of death.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar II is diagnosed when a person experiences mild mania which is referred to as hypomania as well as depression. Within Bipolar II, the episodes are not intertwined and the person does not experience extreme mania.

A case example of someone with Bipolar II could reveal behaviors that would not normally happen on a day to day basis. A person may have the ability to function without sleep more than others.

The individual may experience a very irritable, depressive, or exceptionally joyful disposition for a period of time; they may talk much faster than they typically would. The difference is that loved ones may notice changes in flow of behaviors, but the general public may not be aware of the changes.

During an episode, a person is likely to feel fairly good, and be highly productive in terms of functioning. The person may not feel that anything is wrong, but family and friends may recognize the mood swings and/or changes in activity levels.

Connecting to Treatment Support For Bipolar

Opening a bottle of alcoholThe use of alcohol while experiencing bipolar symptoms can cause issues within a person’s relationships with others such as family and friends; it can also affect performance at work or school. More than 90 percent of children who commit suicide had a mental illness (NAMI, 2016).

It is possible to live a healthy productive life with bipolar, but not if the individual is simultaneously abusing drugs or alcohol. To prevent self-medicating bipolar symptoms or mental illness, making an appointment with a psychiatrist will begin the process of starting a healthy medication regimen as well as beneficial treatment/ therapies for support.


Thank you to Timberline Knolls for providing this article.

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The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 9, 2019
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.