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How to Treat Bipolar and Addiction Concurrently
How to Treat Bipolar and Addiction Concurrently

Bipolar disorder and substance use disorder are conditions that significantly impact the people who live with them. When they occur simultaneously, they should be treated simultaneously. Many people who live with mental health disorders also live with substance use disorders, the two entangled in a difficult push and pull that makes life difficult.

Finding relief is necessary. Everyone with co-occurring conditions deserves the highest possible quality of care from a highly trained professional. If you’re struggling with addiction in conjunction with bipolar disorder, you need a treatment center prepared to provide you with the help you need to feel happy and healthy. 

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder refers to one of several disorders that share a common thread. People living with bipolar disorders will experience an extreme range of moods, sometimes lasting as little as a few days and sometimes lasting as long as a few weeks. 

People with bipolar disorder will periodically enter what is referred to as a “manic” phase. During this time, they generally do not perceive the situation as negative. They often feel happy or energized, and report a reduced need for sleep. Many people with bipolar report enjoying their manic phases, claiming that they feel more sociable and productive. 

Manic phases often incorporate risky behaviors that, in the moment, many people with bipolar disorder do not perceive as dangerous. They may drink too much alcohol, use drugs, give away or recklessly spend their money, or have unsafe sex with unfamiliar people. In the moment, these aspects of a manic phase feel more celebratory or exhilarating rather than dangerous or unwise. 

Manic phases are followed by depressive phases. During these depressive phases, people with bipolar disorder often report low energy, weight gain, feelings of lethargy, loss of interest in things that they usually love, brain fog, and in some cases, dark or suicidal thoughts.

Bipolar disorder is not something that can be self-assessed. If you believe you’re exhibiting signs of bipolar disorder, seek the advice of a mental health professional. 

What is Addiction?

Addiction, or substance use disorder, refers to someone’s dependence on a certain substance. While it usually refers to alcohol or drugs, it can also refer to things that provide pleasure or relief through other means. Some people are addicted to food, sex, or gambling. Dependence on a substance or activity can be physical, emotional, or both. Some substances are more physically addictive than others. 

What is a Co-Occurring Condition?

A co-occurring condition, in this case, refers to someone living with a mental health disorder and an alcohol use or substance use disorder simultaneously. People with bipolar disorder can easily form a co-occurring condition when they use drugs recreationally or impulsively during a manic phase, or self medicate with drugs during a depressive phase. 

Bipolar is a common factor of co-occurring conditions, but people with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety disorders may also live with the co-occurring condition. Absolutely any mental health condition can occur simultaneously with addiction and create complicated entanglements between disorders. 

Bipolar involves a chemical imbalance in the brain. Drugs and alcohol also cause imbalances in the brain. These imbalances can stack, ultimately causing severe harm to people with bipolar disorder. This can increase the symptoms of the mental health disorder and increase the desire to use drugs simultaneously, creating a dangerous loop.

Why Do People with Co-Occurring Conditions Need Special Treatment?

People with untreated or unmanaged bipolar disorder often turn to substances as a way to moderate their moods. During a manic phase, someone may choose to take cocaine or amphetamines to maximize their euphoria. During a depressive phase, someone with bipolar disorder may abuse “downers,” like alcohol or benzodiazepines, to sedate themselves. Conversely, they may use uppers when they feel down or downers when they feel up because they believe it will restore balance to their mood.

This creates a cycle of dependency. People who live with mental health disorders only know to turn to drugs to manage the way they’re feeling, developing addictive behaviors in an attempt to feel better. They ultimately find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place in a cycle that is seemingly impossible to break. 

Treating one condition without the other doesn’t solve the problem. If someone feels nearly cured of a mental health ailment, this doesn’t necessarily resolve their dependency on drugs. Addiction is a separate issue entirely.

If someone seeks rehabilitation for a substance use disorder but doesn’t seek treatment for their mental health disorder, their mental health disorder may make them feel compelled to return to drugs. That’s the way they’re used to dealing with things, and no one offered them an alternative for mitigating their negative feelings.

That’s why co-occurring conditions need to be treated concurrently. They’re often braided together, requiring that both issues reach a simultaneous resolution to prevent someone from returning to drug use. 

How Bipolar and Addiction Are Treated Simultaneously

First and foremost, people with ongoing addictions must safely detox from the substance they abuse. This detoxification is best performed in an inpatient medically monitored setting. Many drugs, including alcohol, can be dangerous to withdraw from without medical assistance.

Then, therapeutic treatments can begin. Patients work with both a psychologist and an addiction counselor. For many people, treatment of their bipolar symptoms may involve medications like mood stabilizers to help manage the shifting extremes that people with bipolar experience. It may also involve antidepressants to ease depressive symptoms. 

Everyone with bipolar is different. Each patient is individually evaluated, and their specific needs are addressed accordingly. The right course for one patient may not be the right course for another patient. 

Some people thrive with cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy, and these therapies may become a crucial part of recovery. These therapies are designed to teach people to understand the way that they think and their motivations, empowering them to act appropriately or utilize healthier coping mechanisms during manic or depressive phases.

Addiction treatment will become intertwined with mental illness treatment during the course of these therapies. Patients work to explore the reasons why they turn to addiction to cope with their feelings and how their bipolar disorder plays a role in their decision-making. Understanding how one often exacerbates the other helps to break the cycle of dependence.

Therapists work with patients to establish healthier coping mechanisms. Sometimes, medications to treat bipolar disorder become an important healthy coping mechanism. When mental illness is adequately managed and dependence on substances is eliminated from the equation, many patients go on to live happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.

Therapies can sometimes involve romantic partners or family members who have been impacted by the patient’s behavior. Therapists work to explain what’s happening with the patient and provide their loved ones with information to help them understand and support their loved one while also providing a stage to heal relationships that may have been fractured in the process.

This process is important. It assures that the patient completes rehab with a reliable support system back home.

Not All Treatment Centers Work with Co-Occurring Conditions

Co-occurring conditions are special circumstances. Many treatment centers aren’t equipped to handle patients living with a mental illness and a substance use disorder. People dealing with both conditions will require care from a facility with a special program for patients with co-occurring conditions, sometimes called a dual diagnosis program. If you’re considering treatment for both an addiction and bipolar disorder, you’ll need to find a specialty center equipped to provide you with the care you need and deserve.

The Takeaway

Treating bipolar disorder and addiction concurrently is vital for the health and recovery of a patient. Those afflicted with both disorders deserve the opportunity to fully heal. They’re worth the time and effort, even though depressive episodes may sometimes inspire hopeless thoughts. With proper treatment, these thoughts can be effectively managed. 

Indah Recovery offers treatment to patients with co-occurring conditions. Our small luxury rehabilitation center in Dana Point is a comfortable and relaxing place to receive treatment. We want patients to feel at ease in our residential center. We offer semi-private bedrooms and bathrooms, so everyone has their own space to heal.

Our use of unique and individualized therapies are designed to address each patient on a case-by-case basis. We’re committed to the recovery of everyone who walks through our doors, and we understand that some people will require more time and care than others. Everyone is equally important at Indah. 



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