Arguably one of the more debilitating forms of mental illness, bipolar disorder often takes over the life of both the affected person and their close loved ones. The manic-depressive mood swings can make a person unable to work or function normally. Since many choose to forsake their psych meds, it is common for people with bipolar to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.

When Do Mood Swings Become Bipolar Disorder?

We all experience life episodes of happiness and sadness. It’s a normal state of affairs for most of us. But for people with bipolar disorder, these episodes are extreme and less related to situational circumstances. Although events can trigger a manic or depressive episode, the brain chemistry driving bipolar behavior is neurological. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depressive illness) is a brain disorder that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. That means it seeps down to one’s very ability to function, so it’s much more severe than simple mood swings.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

If you or a loved one is suffering from bipolar disorder, it is important most of all to remember that only a licensed psychiatrist can make an official diagnosis. Since New Start firmly believes in getting dual diagnosis addicts the help they need, we partner with a local psychiatric group to offer clients professional psychological evaluations. Getting addiction treatment and appropriate psych meds simultaneously could be the 180 degree turn you or your loved one needs to start their recovery.

Manic Episodes

High Energy
Increased Activity
Racing Thoughts
Reckless Behavior

Depressive Episodes

Low Energy
Decreased Activity
Feeling Worried
Excessive Fatigue
Changed Appetite
Lack of Concentration

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of American adults have bipolar

Median age of onset is


Women are


likely to experience rapid cycling

Subtype Cases

Although some symptoms are universal to the disorder, there are distinct subtypes of bipolar that may impact what that person’s addiction looks like.


Bipolar Type I is the more severe subtype. Characterized by manic episodes of 7+ days, or episodes severe enough for immediate hospitalization. Depressive episodes last around two weeks. Type I is more likely to binge drink or overdose due to the severity of symptoms. Type I can become a danger to others during manic episodes, which is exacerbated when substance abuse is factored into the equation.

Bipolar Type II is the less severe form. Usually patterns of mania and depression are present but not full-blown. Type II is more functional and more likely to be able to hide their substance abuse. It is common for type II to stop taking their meds because they do not believe their condition is serious enough. That increases the likelihood for type II to self-medicate through substance abuse.

Cyclothymia is the “long term” version of bipolar where manic and depressive symptoms last for at least two years each. This often goes undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed as chronic depression. Due to their high level of function, cyclothymics are often resistant to the label of “bipolar” and are less likely to admit their substance abuse. This type of denial is common in functional alcoholics and drug users.

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