People who are both alcohol abusers and bipolar will notice overlaps between the disorders. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 5.7 million Americans have bipolar disorder. According to a 2013 study published by Conor Farren of St. Patrick’s University Hospital, approximately 45 percent of people in the world with bipolar disorder also struggle with alcoholism.
People who have bipolar disorder should understand how alcohol use can affect the symptoms of their mental illness and what can be done to address their symptoms in a safe manner.
Bipolar disorder involves significant mood changes that can vary in length, sometimes resulting in depressive or manic states lasting days or weeks at a time. Consuming alcohol or drugs can temporarily diminish the effects of bipolar disorder as certain substances, including alcohol, can change a person’s mood or energy level.
As an example, if someone suffers from a depressive episode, they might drink alcohol to boost their happiness and self-confidence, resulting in a greater desire for social interaction. Since bipolar disorder also involves manic episodes, alcohol can be used to cope with these symptoms. For instance, manic episodes can prevent people from falling asleep, and consuming alcohol can cause drowsiness.
However, drinking alcohol to cope with bipolar disorder symptoms is not recommended. People who do so are likely to develop a dependence on alcohol and will severely struggle to manage their bipolar disorder without consuming the substance. Additionally, consuming alcohol can have varying effects each time. If someone drinks alcohol specifically to boost their mood during a depressive episode or induce drowsiness and lethargy during a manic episode, they might experience effects that cause even more extreme versions of each event.
If you or someone you know has bipolar disorder, you might have specific questions related to substance use and its effect on the mental illness. Some common questions are “How does alcohol affect bipolar disorder?” and, “Does alcohol make bipolar disorder worse?”
The effects of alcohol on bipolar disorder include more volatile symptoms regularly associated with the mental illness. Alcohol can alter a person’s mood and cause people with bipolar disorder to feel extreme manic or depressive episodes. Drinking alcohol can cause energy bursts and increased excitement to complete tasks or participate in social activities. Consuming the substance also can cause feelings of depression or anxiety and decrease a person’s energy level.
Binge drinking is frequently a way that people find temporary relief from their struggles. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as four drinks for women and five drinks for men in a two-hour span.
Whether someone has financial stress, depression due to a loss of employment, a social anxiety disorder or a combination of different issues, alcohol is routinely what people turn to for coping. Many people who have bipolar disorder likewise turn to binge drinking alcohol.
Certain medications can help manage bipolar disorder. These medications, often called mood stabilizers, include:
- Divalproex sodium (Depakote)
- Lamotrigine (Lamictal)
- Valproic acid (Depakene)
Benzodiazepines, which are usually used to treat anxiety, can help when bipolar disorder pairs with difficulty sleeping. Xanax, Klonopin, Valium and Ativan are all potential bipolar disorder medications. Other types of medication people can use for this specific mental illness include:
- Tricyclic antidepressants (Norpramin, Anafranil)
- Selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitor and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (Celexa, Prozac, Zoloft, Luvox, Paxil, Effexor)
- Atypical Antidepressants (Wellbutrin, Serzone)
- Antipsychotics (Zyprexa, Risperdal, Abilify)
Drinking while on bipolar medication is not recommended. Certain drugs should not be combined with alcohol and can result in severe side effects, including severe injury or death. Other effects of mixing alcohol with bipolar medication include:
- Slowed breathing
- Increased depression
- Liver damage
Seek the advice of a medical professional before taking medication to treat bipolar disorder. Certain drugs have the potential for overdose and can become extremely dangerous to use when paired with another medication or common substance such as alcohol.
While some may refer to a person struggling with these issues as a bipolar alcoholic, the two conditions are often intertwined and require separate, simultaneous treatment.
Medical experts recommend treating alcoholism and bipolar disorder together when the two conditions co-occur. Doing so involves entering a rehabilitation facility that offers treatment for alcohol abuse along with support for bipolar disorder. Many reputable rehab centers create treatment plans for each condition that work independently to help the patient learn coping strategies to manage each disorder. Additionally, the treatment plans may intertwine with one another as certain disorders often co-occur and can be the cause or result of one another.
Bipolar and alcoholism treatment involves going through detoxification to remove the physical presence of alcohol from the patient’s body. Following detox, people often enter inpatient rehab. However, the specific level of care someone experiences can vary based on the severity of their addiction, their family’s history with addiction and mental illness, and whether they have experienced rehab before.
Once detox concludes and rehabilitation begins, patients may receive medication to treat their bipolar disorder. However, the foundation of most rehab programs involves individual and group therapy sessions. By interacting with medical professionals who can provide valuable advice, patients learn helpful coping mechanisms to help during their lifelong recovery. Additionally, group sessions put patients around peers who have similar struggles, which can help people recognize that they aren’t alone in their recovery.
Bipolar disorder and alcoholism frequently co-occur, in large part because alcohol can provide temporary relief from the effects of the mental illness. There are some key points to remember when considering how alcohol affects bipolar symptoms:
- People who are bipolar and experience alcoholism may have developed the substance use disorder from self-medicating for their mental illness
- The effects of alcohol use can mirror those of bipolar disorder as people often experience a surge of energy or confidence and then feel drowsiness, lethargy, anxiety and depression
- Consuming alcohol can increase the severity of bipolar disorder symptoms, including feeling extreme manic or depressive episodes
- Mixing alcohol with bipolar medications is extremely risky and can result in serious injury or death
- Treatment of bipolar disorder and alcoholism should coincide to address both issues. Doing so can prevent future substance use that may arise due to the person not knowing effective coping strategies to manage their bipolar disorder healthily.
If you or someone you know struggles with alcoholism and bipolar disorder, medical professionals can help. There is no cure for either illness, but entering rehabilitation can help you or your loved one achieve a life that does not involve substance abuse. The Recovery Village® has locations in each region of the United States and can help people progress toward a healthier life. If you or your loved one wants a future that is free of substance abuse, call The Recovery Village® to speak with the representatives who are available all day and night and ready to answer any questions you have.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.