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Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse
As many as half of the individuals who suffer with bipolar disorder also have some form of substance use disorder. Unfortunately, that makes sense. The extreme depression and mania of bipolar disorder often cause individuals to turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to ward off the lows and augment the highs by self-medicating. While this way of coping may work to relieve the symptoms for a while, it may lead to addiction, which will only exacerbate the brain chemistry that makes bipolar disorder so all-consuming in the first place.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes an individual to experience extreme mood swings. The disorder used to be called manic depression, which is an accurate description. People with bipolar disorder experience emotional highs, called mania or hypomania, and very low lows, or depression.
When bipolar sufferers get depressed, they lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, they become hopeless, and tend to isolate themselves from friends, family, and loved ones. When their mood swings to the other end of the spectrum, they may feel energized, euphoric, or sometimes irritable. The extreme mood swings can impact energy, sleep, activity, behavior, judgment, and the ability to focus or think clearly.
Episodes of mood swings sometimes occur only rarely, while for some people they occur several times a year. Most people with bipolar disorder experience some symptoms between episodes, while others don’t experience any at all.
Bipolar disorder isn’t curable, it will last a lifetime. However, it’s a condition that can be managed. For most people with bipolar disorder, mood swings and other symptoms can be controlled with an effective treatment plan. Typically, the treatment for bipolar involves the use of medications and psychological therapies.
What is Substance Abuse?
A substance use disorder, which is also simply called addiction, is a disease affecting the brain and behavior of an individual. It leads to the inability to limit or control the use of drugs (legal or illegal) or alcohol. People with a substance use disorder cannot simply stop using or drinking substances, even though the addiction is causing negative consequences in their lives.
Addiction to drugs or alcohol often begins with the recreational or experimental use of substances in social situations. Sometimes it begins innocently, when an individual is prescribed addictive medication for pain relief (opioids) or to manage anxiety (benzodiazepines). When someone uses substances that change the way they feel, it may cause them to want to use more or use more frequently. Eventually, the amount they are taking will no longer give them the same effects they are seeking, so they have to take more to achieve those feelings. This is known as developing a tolerance to the substance, and it is one indicator of addiction.
Another indication that an individual is addicted to drugs or alcohol is experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using the substance. Because the brain and body get used to having the substance in the system, when it is abruptly taken away, the person will feel sick and have withdrawal symptoms. The severity and longevity of withdrawal symptoms depend on the type and amount of the drug taken, how long the person has been using, and the general health of the individual. Some substances, especially alcohol, have severe withdrawal symptoms that can even lead to death.
The Connections between Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse
The very nature of bipolar disorder is often the cause of substance abuse for sufferers. Many people have the urge to self-medicate for two reasons. They are either trying to relieve the negative aspects of the condition, to feel better when depressed, or to enhance the feelings of euphoria and energy that come with the mania caused by bipolar disorder.
Substance abuse may be especially appealing to those who have undiagnosed or untreated bipolar disorder. Using or drinking allows them to numb or escape the feelings that they don’t know how to relieve any other way. Additionally, it isn’t uncommon for people with bipolar disorder to want to use drugs or alcohol because they are looking to bring on extreme mania or hypomania that they have experienced before as a result of their disorder. Using uppers, or stimulants, like methamphetamine or cocaine, sometimes provides a feeling similar to what a manic episode feels like.
Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders
Treatment for bipolar disorder and substance use disorder must be integrative to be effective. This is the same for any type of mental illness or condition that is present at the same time an individual is addicted to drugs or alcohol. This is known as having co-occurring disorders, and an effective treatment plan for individuals involves treating both conditions simultaneously.
While the treatment for co-occurring disorders may be more complicated than treating only one or the other, there are many drug and alcohol treatment centers that are equipped to handle the task. Finding the right co-occurring disorder treatment is not only possible, it can also lead to a successful, long-term recovery from both disorders.
Inpatient Treatment for Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse
When someone has bipolar disorder and substance use disorder, their best option for treatment is an inpatient program where both conditions can be treated. Many treatment centers have the experience and are equipped to treat co-occurring disorders. Inpatient, or residential, treatment involves living at the facility for a period of time, receiving around-the-clock care and support, and the therapies needed to enter a new way of living. Individuals who go to residential treatment will have access to psychiatric care, medical care, traditional addiction treatments, learn life and coping skills, and relapse prevention techniques. These are all valuable skills that can be taken with them after they complete their program.
Covering the Cost of Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse Treatment
For most people who want treatment for co-occurring disorders, the fear of how much treatment will cost is the biggest deterrent. Fortunately, there are numerous types of treatment centers, with different amenities, specialized treatments, and costs. While there are luxury rehabilitation programs that can cost upwards of $1,000 per day, there are also low-cost and free rehabs that offer the quality of treatment as those that are more expensive. Essentially, the extra cost is for added amenities (massage, gourmet meals, etc.) and specific therapies (music, art, equine, meditation, yoga, and the like).
Many people who go to rehab have health insurance that covers part of the cost. The exact amount that is covered varies depending on the specific insurance plan.
Individuals who don’t have health insurance can still seek treatment. There are many low-cost and even no-cost drug and alcohol treatment centers that also treat co-occurring disorders. There may be a wait to get into these types of treatment programs, but waiting is far better than not getting the help they need. Additionally, some treatment centers offer sliding scale fees, scholarships, or financial aid to help with costs.
Final Thoughts about Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse
If you or your family member has bipolar disorder and also suffer with addiction to drugs or alcohol, there is help available for you. It’s critical that you find a California addiction treatment center that is equipped to treat individuals with co-occurring disorders. For the best chances of long-term abstinence and recovery, choose an inpatient treatment program that integrates traditional addiction treatment with psychiatric treatment for bipolar disorder. Seek help sooner rather than later, as addiction is a progressive disease that only gets worse over time, never better. But know that it is manageable and that many people with bipolar disorder and drug or alcohol addiction have gone on to have happy, fulfilling lives when they’ve had the right treatment.
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