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The Connection Between Bipolar Disorder and Addiction

It is not uncommon for mental health and substance use disorders to be linked. An individual experiencing depression, for example, may turn to medications in an effort to cope with the symptoms. That drug use can then turn into an addiction. Likewise, a person who has become addicted may soon develop mental health issues. There is also a significant connection between bipolar disorder and addiction.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. There are three types of bipolar disorder, all of which involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely “up,” elated, irritable, or energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very “down,” sad, indifferent, or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes).

People with bipolar disorder experience periods of unusually intense emotion, changes in sleep patterns and activity levels, and uncharacteristic behaviors—often without recognizing their likely harmful or undesirable effects. These distinct periods are called “mood episodes.”

Mood episodes are very different from the moods and behaviors that are typical for the person. During an episode, the symptoms last every day for most of the day. Episodes may also last for longer periods, such as several days or weeks.

The Connection

Approximately 2.8% of the population, about 7 million people, experiences bipolar disorder. Of those people in the US with a mental illness, 19.3%, or about 9.2 million, also experience a substance use disorder. These substance use disorders are common in individuals with bipolar disorder.

In fact, people with bipolar illness may be more vulnerable to using drugs or alcohol and to addiction. When in a manic state, the individual may use drugs or alcohol to extend the hypercreativity they feel. When they are in a depressed state, they may use these substances to alleviate their symptoms.

Bipolar disorder can also cause sleeplessness, irritability, and a euphoric mood. The individual using drugs or alcohol to cope with the symptoms of bipolar disorder often find themselves in a constant cycle of mood swings and substance use.


The connection between bipolar disorder and addiction also lies in the symptoms experienced in both conditions. Drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines can produce the same euphoria and increased energy that are seen in someone in a manic state of bipolar disorder. Misuse of alcohol and benzodiazepines produce similar symptoms as those seen in the depressive state. When the individual goes through withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, their symptoms of depression, dysphoria, and sleep difficulties are also very much like those seen in the bipolar disorder depressed or mixed phases.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed. Because of the similarities in symptoms between substance use and the mental health issues, it is often difficult to distinguish between the two.

The diagnosis and treatment of substance use disorders and mental illness are complex as it is often difficult to disentangle the overlapping symptoms. People who have both a drug use disorder and another mental illness often exhibit symptoms that are more persistent, severe, and resistant to treatment compared with patients who have either disorder alone.

An individual who has both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder is described as having a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Integrated treatment for both bipolar disorder and addiction has been found to be consistently more effective as compared with separate treatment of each diagnosis.

Integrated treatment of co-occurring disorders often involves using cognitive behavioral therapy strategies to boost interpersonal and coping skills and using approaches that support motivation and functional recovery. Several strategies have shown promise for treating specific comorbid conditions, including those offered at BRC Recovery:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Experiential Therapy
  • Psychodrama
  • Family Programming


At BRC Recovery, we understand the connection between bipolar disorder and addiction. We offer proven therapies to address your mental health and your addiction to drugs or alcohol. We can help you stop the vicious cycle of drug or alcohol use and the debilitating symptoms of your bipolar disorder that have become such a struggle for you. Our team of experts focuses on holistic healing so you can experience real recovery.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we provide a safe, clean environment for you to continue receiving the highest quality of care. To learn more about our services and to get the help you need, please call BRC Recovery 1-866-291-2676 to speak to our team.