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Should individuals present with substance abuse issues, it can often stem from the effects of bipolar disorder. When this happens, it is referred to as a co-occurring disorder and must be treated in a way that addresses both sides of the issue.

The Roots of Bipolar Disorder

There are no set reasons behind a person exhibiting bipolar disorder. However, it is often tied to heredity and genes, as the effects of bipolar disorder are often seen through generations. It has been observed that individuals with bipolar disorder present with different brain structures and functions from those without bipolar or other mental health disorders.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) points to three distinct types of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I disorder: “Defined by manic episodes that last at least seven days (most of the day, nearly every day) or when manic symptoms are so severe that hospital care is needed. Usually, separate depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least two weeks. Episodes of mood disturbance with mixed features are also possible. The experience of four or more episodes of mania or depression within a year is termed ‘rapid cycling.’”
  • Bipolar II disorder: “Defined by a pattern of depressive and hypomanic episodes, but the episodes are less severe than the manic episodes in bipolar I disorder.”
  • Cyclothymic disorder (also called cyclothymia): “Defined by recurrent hypomanic and depressive symptoms that are not intense enough or do not last long enough to qualify as hypomanic or depressive episodes.”

Reasons for Individuals Not Seeking Treatment Options for the Effects of Bipolar Disorder

For people with bipolar disorder, the idea of seeking assistance may be difficult. This can be put down to a variety of reasons, including:

  • Shame
  • Fear
  • Misdiagnosis
  • Inability to notice one’s own symptoms

Even though these are all valid reasons for not seeking help, there are answers to each one that can help individuals seek assistance.

Individuals may find that they feel shame as they are unable to control their emotional swings, and this causes them to be unsure of how others control their own emotions. They may have been told they are different or that they have something “wrong” with them. This stigma is far stronger than people may think.

People may also have a fear of seeking treatment. They may believe they are going to be changed in a very fundamental way. This thought may strike individuals as a protective reaction when it is, in fact, holding them back from life-changing treatment.

There may also be problems with understanding exactly what is going on with their own brain chemistry. It could be that they have been misdiagnosed with a different disorder and do not realize that their problems are far more severe or that certain medications are not helping.

Often, people do not notice or refuse to notice that they have symptoms of bipolar disorder. In these cases, it is up to loved ones to intervene and discuss behavior with the individual. This can be difficult, but it may be the conversation that helps them turn a major corner in their lives.

How the Effects of Bipolar Disorder Impact Substance Abuse

Regardless of the reason for not seeking treatment, those who attempt to self-medicate with substances may find that they fall further into addiction. For these individuals, times of mania may hold uncontrollable urges and actions. This means that they are prone to being reckless.

In this reckless state, they may seek out destructive behaviors, including increased substance abuse. Conversely, if they have times of extreme depression, they may find that certain substances have a numbing effect. This numbing may feel as though it is helping when in fact it is hindering any progress or personal growth.  

In these hyper-emotional moments, people will feel the full effects of bipolar disorder and be subject to all of the negative side effects that accompany them. The worst-case scenario is that people may be in such heightened states that their control disappears. Their mania/depression takes over, leaving them with no inhibitions. This could lead to not just substance abuse but creates an environment rife with overdoses.

Treatment Options That Deal With the Effects of Bipolar Disorder

Regardless of whether the individual or their loved ones are responsible for finding them treatment, it is never too late. Co-occurring disorders such as bipolar disorder and substance abuse are best treated together. This way, at facilities such as West Coast Recovery Centers, they can have a healthy balance of treatment.  

For those who only attempt to treat one-half of a co-occurring disorder, the odds of backsliding increase exponentially. If only half of the issue is addressed, a person will remain unbalanced. West Coast Recovery Centers is able to create a safe environment where individuals can learn about the effects of bipolar disorder. Simply learning the initial concepts of what they have been dealing with and talking with professionals who understand will have profound effects on how people lead the rest of their lives.

At West Coast Recovery Centers, we attempt to assist our clients with whatever level of substance use or mental health issue they have. However, in many cases, people come to us with undiagnosed co-occurring disorders. This means that they have both a mental health issue and a substance use issue. Clients with co-occurring disorders require a different level of care and a more specialized version of our program. Our case managers will help individual clients develop a defined path through recovery to address all sides of their issues. When both are tackled simultaneously, clients will find that treatment will finally address the issues they may have been dealing with for their entire lives. For more information, call (760) 492-6509.

West Coast Recovery Centers ( 370135CP), Valid through July 31, 2025
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