Can Drugs Cause Bipolar Disorder?

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Substance abuse is unfortunately common among people who have bipolar disorder. But what is the nature of the relationship between this behavior and this mental health condition? Does bipolar disorder lead to drug abuse, or can drugs cause bipolar disorder?

Signs & Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Before we discuss if drugs can cause bipolar disorder, let’s take a moment to clarify what the signs and symptoms of this condition can look like. 

There are actually three types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, and cyclothymic disorder.  These types of bipolar disorder are differentiated by the type, duration, and intensity of symptoms that a person experiences: 

  • People with bipolar I disorder will have manic episodes. 
  • People with bipolar II disorder will have both hypomanic and major depressive episodes. 
  • People who have cyclothymic disorder will experience hypomanic and depressive symptoms, but they will not last long enough to qualify for a hypomanic or major depressive episode.

During a manic episode, a person may exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Significant increase in energy, motivation, and enthusiasm
  • Heightened sense of self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Desire to launch or work on multiple products
  • Little to no apparent need for sleep
  • Racing mind and extreme talkativeness
  • Impulsivity in potentially harmful areas such as spending and sex

By definition, a manic episode will last for at least seven consecutive days, with symptoms present most days for most of the day.

Hypomanic episodes are similar to manic episodes, but symptoms only need to be present for four consecutive days.

During a major depressive episode, a person may have the following types of symptoms:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Diminished energy, pervasive fatigue, and low motivation
  • Abnormal eating habits (which can include eating too much or not at all)
  • Altered sleeping patterns (which can include sleeping too much or hardly at all)
  • Poor self-esteem and a marked lack of self-confidence
  • Frequent thoughts of death and dying

As established in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a major depressive episode will last for at least 14 consecutive days, with symptoms present for most of the day, just about every day.

Can Drugs Cause Bipolar Disorder?

As we noted at the top of this post, people who have bipolar disorder often abuse alcohol or other drugs. 

With substance abuse and addiction so closely associated with bipolar disorder, it seems appropriate to ask, “Can drugs cause bipolar disorder?”

It is extremely difficult to pinpoint a single cause for bipolar disorder or most other mental health concerns. In most cases, a person’s risk for developing a specific mental illness can be influenced by a combination of internal (genetic) and external (environmental) factors.

In the case of bipolar disorder, the DSM-5 notes that family history is the strongest predictor of whether or not a person will have this condition. If someone has bipolar I disorder or bipolar II disorder, the likelihood that one of their adult relatives will also have bipolar disorder is 10 times higher than among people whose close relatives do not have either of these conditions.

However, while drugs may not be a primary risk factor for bipolar disorder, they can have an effect on the symptoms that a person experiences. For example, substance abuse can trigger the onset and intensify the severity of both manic and depressive episodes. 

Also, NIH data indicates that abusing alcohol and other drugs can increase the likelihood that someone who has bipolar disorder will attempt suicide and need to be hospitalized. 

Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder

Treatment for bipolar disorder usually involves medication, therapy, and education.

Depending on which types of symptoms a person has been experiencing, the medication component of treatment for bipolar disorder may involve antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, mood stabilizers, or antipsychotics.

The therapeutic and educational elements of treatment can help people learn to manage the symptoms that are not alleviated by medication. If a patient has both bipolar disorder and a substance use disorder, therapy can also help them end their drug use and begin to build a foundation for lifelong recovery.

At Nashville Treatment Solutions, adults who are care treatment for bipolar disorder may take part in a variety of therapeutic activities, including:

  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy
  • Music therapy

Begin Treatment for Bipolar Disorder in Nashville

Nashville Treatment Solutions is a trusted provider of personalized outpatient care for adults who have been living with bipolar disorder. Treatment options at our center in Nashville, Tennessee, include a partial hospitalization program (PHP), an intensive outpatient program (IOP), and a traditional outpatient program (OP). For individuals whose bipolar disorder is accompanied by co-occurring addiction, we also offer detoxification.If you have been struggling with bipolar disorder, the Nashville Treatment Solutions team is here for you. To learn more about how we can help, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.