While using methamphetamines doesn’t cause bipolar disorder, it can cause symptoms that resemble the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Most people with bipolar disorder experience a full manic or hypomanic episode at least once in their lives. These episodes typically feature surging energy levels, increased motivation and drive, and feelings of optimism and euphoria. Manic episodes are more severe than hypomanic episodes and can also include psychotic symptoms like delusions and hallucinations.

Both kinds of mood episodes can be frightening and uncomfortable, sometimes causing agitation and paranoia. When people develop psychotic symptoms in the course of a manic episode, they may require hospitalization for their safety and stabilization. Otherwise, they are at risk of acting on delusions and causing themselves physical, emotional or financial harm.

However, for many people with bipolar disorder, these elevated mood episodes can be mostly or completely pleasant. Some people experience heightened creativity and productivity during manic or hypomanic episodes and feel optimistic enough to start promising new ventures. This positive experience inspires some people with bipolar disorder to stop taking their medications so that they can repeat it. Unfortunately, this is rarely what happens. Instead, discontinuing bipolar medications can trigger dangerous manic symptoms or severe depressive episodes.

The effects of methamphetamines can resemble symptoms of a manic episode. Meth typically causes an initial rush that can wake people up and make them feel more alert and focused. This surge of attention and drive is why some people take methamphetamines for practical rather than recreational purposes. Either way, as with bipolar disorder, this initial boost comes with additional risks including agitation, paranoia and psychosis and is usually followed by a crash.

Some people combine meth and bipolar disorder for the same reason that other people stop taking bipolar medications. By using meth,  bipolar disorder symptoms can be pushed toward mania and then prolonged. Unfortunately, using methamphetamines to intensify or trigger manic symptoms comes with many risks, including increased risk of developing psychotic symptoms.

Article at a Glance:

  • Methamphetamines cause psychological and physical effects that are similar to symptoms of mania or hypomania, including increased energy, focus and drive.
  • For these reasons, people with bipolar disorder may sometimes use them to intensify or prolong the pleasant aspects of hypomanic or manic episodes.
  • Unfortunately, this frequently leads to addiction and negative effects including increased likelihood of experiencing psychotic symptoms during a manic episode or having a depressive episode immediately after a manic episode ends.

Does Meth Use Cause Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a complex condition linked to the interaction of multiple causes including genetic predisposition, differences in brain function and physical and psychological trauma. It’s not necessarily caused by substance use alone but using meth or other substances can trigger mood episodes and make bipolar symptoms worse.

Substance abuse in adolescence can cause bipolar disorder to develop more quickly. Early drug use may cause people to have their first full mood episode earlier than they otherwise would have. It also increases the risk of hospitalization. Using methamphetamines in high amounts can delay accurate bipolar diagnosis and treatment by masking or distorting bipolar symptoms.

While using methamphetamines doesn’t cause bipolar disorder, it can cause symptoms that resemble the symptoms of bipolar disorder. For people who use meth, racing thoughts, soaring mood and heightened ambition are typically followed by periods of depressed mood and lethargy as the effects of the drug wear off.

The after effects of meth use can cause people who aren’t aware of the residual and withdrawal effects of methamphetamines to wonder if they have bipolar disorder and cause people with co-occurring disorders to misattribute symptoms to the wrong disorder. This confusion may delay effective treatment of both substance use and bipolar disorders.

Will Meth Make Bipolar Symptoms Worse?

Methamphetamines not only have the potential to worsen or trigger manic or hypomanic symptoms but can also make depressive symptoms worse. Different ways that meth can negatively impact someone with bipolar disorder include:

  • Causing mood episodes to cycle more rapidly
  • Reducing periods spent symptom-free
  • Triggering the onset of a manic or hypomanic episode
  • Adding to unpleasant hypomanic symptoms like agitation
  • Provoking severe manic symptoms like paranoia and psychosis
  • Increasing the chance of a depressive episode after a manic episode

Mood episodes in bipolar disorder typically last several months, though people with rapid cycling bipolar disorder may have mood episodes that last for only a few weeks. While there are many downsides to longer-lasting mood episodes, they do make symptom management somewhat easier. Using meth can destabilize symptoms in ways that make them harder to manage or treat.

One of the classic patterns associated with stimulant use is the crash that comes after active effects wear off. These periods of fatigue and low mood can be even more intense after binges. Using meth in large amounts, then running out or stopping due to negative effects can suddenly cause someone to experience an unexpected depression.

These depressive periods come with increased risk of suicide or other self-harming behavior. When someone with an underlying mood disorder uses meth, this pattern can become even more severe. Withdrawal effects combining with innate neurochemical changes associated with bipolar disorder intensify high and low moods.

Dual Diagnosis Bipolar and Meth Addiction Treatment

Early treatment models for dually diagnosed disorders kept mental health and substance use treatment separate. People were often referred to addiction treatment first and would only later be referred to psychiatrists, counselors or other mental health professionals. This model was based on the idea that psychiatric treatment could only be effective after a person maintained a period of abstinence from substance use.

While there are some virtues to this method, years of trying different approaches and testing them via social science research have revealed that integrated treatment is more effective.  Receiving treatment for mental health and substance use disorders at the same time not only helps alleviate unpleasant psychiatric symptoms more quickly but also prevents recurrence of substance use and helps people cope with cravings in healthier ways.

The profound biological basis of bipolar disorder makes medication an important component of treatment. Individual differences determine which medication works best, but mood stabilizers are the most common class of medications used to treat bipolar disorder. Anticonvulsants like lamotrigine (Lamictal), oxcarbazepine (Trileptal) and valproic acid (Depakote) are popular.

Atypical antipsychotics like risperidone (Risperdal), quetiapine (Seroquel) and aripiprazole (Abilify) can also stabilize mood and treat depressive symptoms without triggering mania. Research shows that for people with co-occurring bipolar disorder and methamphetamine dependence, atypical antipsychotic medications improve manic, mixed and depressive mood symptoms and reduce methamphetamine cravings at the same time.

Related Topic: Treatment for mania

Fortunately, integrated treatment is available that can stabilize bipolar symptoms while helping people cope with cravings and respond to stressors without continuing to misuse substances. If you are concerned you or someone you know may have a methamphetamines addiction, you can take this assessment to determine the extent to which substance abuse is impacting your life.

If you or someone you know are struggling with addiction and co-occurring bipolar disorder and know that you need help, contact The Recovery Village today. A representative can discuss different integrated treatment options with you and determine which ones will best meet your needs. Your recovery can begin today!

Stephanie Hairston
Medically Reviewed By – Stephanie Hairston, MSW
Stephanie Hairston received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and English from Pomona College and her Master of Social Work degree from New York University. Read more
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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.