Previously known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that causes severe mood swings. Individuals living with this condition often alternate between mania (a euphoric, energized mood) and depression. These mood shifts occur throughout several weeks or months.
Article at a Glance:
- Bipolar disorder causes severe mood shifts that occur over several weeks or months.
- Bipolar disorder can affect anyone, and men and women have different symptoms.
- There are different types of bipolar disorder but not different levels of the disorder.
- It is common for people with bipolar disorder to also experience substance abuse and obesity.
- There is an increased risk of suicide among people with bipolar disorder.
Table of Contents
Prevalence of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder affects about 2.8 percent of people living in the United States. Worldwide, bipolar disorder is considered to be the sixth leading cause of disability by the World Health Organization. The prevalence of bipolar disorder does not seem to be affected by gender, with bipolar prevalence being roughly equal for both men and women.
While the disorder can affect anyone at any age, bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed in the early to mid-twenties, with 25 being the average age of diagnosis. While the genetic component of bipolar disorder still needs extensive research, it’s known that about two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder have at least one close relative with either bipolar disorder or depression.
Women and Bipolar Disorder
While men and women tend to have bipolar disorder at similar rates, bipolar symptoms in women vary from those in men. Compared to men, women with bipolar disorder tend to experience:
- More rapid cycling between depression and mania
- More episodes and simultaneous symptoms of depression and mania
- Higher likelihood of being misdiagnosed with depression
Understanding the ways bipolar disorder affects women can help women recognize symptoms in themselves and others around them.
Adolescents and Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder in adolescents is often under-diagnosed. An estimated 1.1 million children and adolescents with depression may actually have early-onset bipolar disorder.
The symptoms of bipolar disorder in teens tends to manifest differently than they do in adults. During the depressive phase of bipolar disorder, teens or preteens tend to experience physical symptoms, such as headaches, excessive tiredness and stomach aches. Teens and preteens may also be sensitive to failure or disapproval and may seek social isolation. During manic phases, teens and preteens become hyper, occasionally exhibiting irritability and destructive outbursts. Teens often do not experience the euphoric effects of the manic phase like adults do.
Level of Impairment
Recent research shows that there is a relationship between bipolar disorder and cognitive impairment. While many people who have bipolar disorder do not experience cognitive impairment, some individuals will experience cognitive symptoms including memory problems, disorganized thought processes and difficulty concentrating.
Other impairments that may occur with bipolar disorder relate to the two different mood phases that characterize it. During the manic phase of bipolar disorder, people may experience decreased inhibition, which can cause them to act in ways that they may not typically act in, including unusually risky or dangerous behaviors. During the depressive phase, people with this disease may be unable to participate in activities that they normally would, which can lead to social isolation.
While some people mistakenly believe that there are different levels of bipolar disorder, there are rather different types of bipolar disorder. The most severe type of bipolar disorder type is called rapid cycling bipolar disorder. Individuals with rapid cycling bipolar disorder experience four or more cycles of mood phases in one year. The rapid cycling through moods can impact nearly every aspect of a person’s personal and professional life.
The Course of Bipolar Disorder
The course and prognosis of bipolar disorder depend on how severe the mood swings are and the length of time between cycles. Bipolar disorder is a recurring condition that is typically present throughout the lifetime of those that have it. Unfortunately, bipolar disorder can take up to ten years to be correctly diagnosed, with only about 25 percent of people receiving a correct diagnosis in three years or less.
While bipolar disorder typically lasts throughout someone’s life, several medications can help a person manage symptoms or lead to a reduction of symptoms.
The prognosis of bipolar disorder can, unfortunately, be poor. Having bipolar disorder does increase your risk of committing suicide at some point during your life, with the average decrease in the lifespan of someone with bipolar disorder being about nine years.
Bipolar Disorder and Co-Occurring Conditions
Bipolar disorder can increase your risk of other diseases. Physical conditions related to bipolar disorder include headaches, heart problems, diabetes, obesity and thyroid disease. In some cases, bipolar disorder can also cause psychotic symptoms.
One particular challenge encountered with bipolar disorder is a bipolar dual diagnosis, where someone with bipolar disorder is also medicating themselves with addictive drugs that are not prescribed by their doctor or are taking prescribed drugs inappropriately.
Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse
Bipolar disorder substance abuse comorbidity can be almost 60 percent, depending on the severity of mood swings and other symptoms. The relationship between bipolar disorder and substance abuse may be because medications used to treat bipolar disorder are not always effective, causing those with bipolar disorder to seek additional ways to address their symptoms.
People with bipolar disorder may also misuse substances to boost the natural high experienced during the manic phase of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Disorder and Obesity
Bipolar disorder has the highest rates of co-occurring obesity for any psychiatric illness, with about 35 percent of people with bipolar disorder also living with obesity.
Researchers are uncertain about what causes the link between bipolar disorder and obesity. While the leading theory is that the medications used to treat bipolar disorder often cause weight gain, people with bipolar disorder who are not taking medication still have a higher likelihood of developing obesity than members of the general population.
The rates of diabetes and heart disease in people with bipolar disorder are also higher than average, which may also link to higher incidences of obesity in people with bipolar disorder.
Bipolar and Suicide Risk
Unfortunately, bipolar disorder causes an increased risk of suicide. The correlation between bipolar disorder and suicide risk is related to the depression experienced and the feeling of hopelessness that depression can cause. A few, key bipolar disorder suicide risk statistics to take note of:
- 25–50 percent of people with bipolar disorder will attempt suicide
- The bipolar disorder suicide rate is about 11 percent
- Between 5 and 15 percent of people with bipolar disorder will develop rapid cycling
While suicide is a risk of bipolar disorder, professional treatment can help to decrease this risk.
Statistics on Bipolar Treatment and Recovery
Bipolar disorder treatment is primarily based on mood stabilization and addressing symptoms in the different phases of bipolar disorder. Lithium is the primary drug used in treatment, with a bipolar recovery rate that is between 40 and 85 percent.
One important point to keep in mind when discussing bipolar recovery statistics is that bipolar disorder is a lifelong disease. Treatment can help people with bipolar disorder lead lives that are mostly unaffected by this disease, and 90 percent of people receiving treatment for bipolar disorder reported that they are satisfied with their treatment.
Researchers continue to improve bipolar disorder treatment, and treatment by medical professionals can greatly increase the standard of living among people with the disorder.
For people living with a substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health condition, like bipolar disorder, seeking treatment for both can be a critical step toward attaining a healthier future. At The Recovery Village, addiction treatment plans include personalized, comprehensive treatment plans for addiction and co-occurring disorders. Call today to learn more about treatment options to manage addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions.
Bipolar-lives.com. “Bipolar Disorder Statistics.” August 1, 2014. Accessed February 2019
Cassidy, F., Ahearn, E. P., & Carroll, B. J. “Substance Abuse in Bipolar Disorder.” Bipolar Disorders, 3(4), 181-188, August 2001. Accessed February 2019.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. “Bipolar Disorder Statistics.” 2018. Accessed February 12, 2019.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Bipolar Disorder.” November 2017. Accessed February 12, 2019.
Solé B, Jiménez E, Torrent C, et al. “Cognitive Impairment in Bipolar Disorder: Treatment and Prevention Strategies.” The international journal of neuropsychopharmacology, 20(8), 670-680, August 2017. Accessed February 12, 2019.
Soreff, Stephen. “Bipolar Disorder.” Medscape, May 6, 2018. Accessed February 12, 2019.
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.