Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by unusual changes in mood, energy, and the ability to participate in daily life. Individuals with this disorder frequently have a dual diagnosis of a substance abuse disorder, as well. Both disorders must be addressed for an optimal treatment plan to be created.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder

Symptoms of bipolar disorder are categorized as either manic or depressive. Manic symptoms include periods of feeling overly happy and energetic, and feelings of restlessness and irritability. Individuals experiencing a manic period may also speak very rapidly and change conversation topics often. Mania can also cause a person to be easily distracted, make impulsive decisions, and form grandiose plans.

Depressive Symptoms

Depressive symptoms are characterized by periods of feeling sad, empty, and hopeless. A depressive episode will also cause a person to lose interest in activities usually enjoyed, and feel extremely tired. A person experiencing a depressive episode may also have trouble concentrating, and making decisions. The most worrisome characteristic of an episode of this type is the occurrence of thoughts or attempts of suicide.

83% of Cases are Severe

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 2.6 percent of adults in the United States suffer from bipolar disorder, and nearly 83 percent of all diagnosed cases are considered severe. Those who suffer from the disorder are twice as likely to abuse a substance as the general population, and nearly one-third of all mentally ill individuals also suffer from a substance abuse disorder.

Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis is a complex issue because it is often difficult to discern which disorder onset first. Many people with bipolar disorder use substances as a way to alleviate symptoms of their disorder. Conversely, prolonged use of an illicit substance can lead to mental and emotional changes that can be classified as a mental disorder. In addition, using an addictive substance can cause symptoms of a preexisting mental condition to manifest for the first time.

The Brain and Genetics

The brain and genetics also play a role in dual diagnosis. The neurotransmitter dopamine helps to regulate emotional response, and the circuits that transport this chemical are directly affected by addictive substances and are believed by most medical professionals to be involved in all types of mental disorder. It is also believed that 40 to 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability for addiction is related to genes. These same genes are also believed to be involved in the way a person deals with stress and emotion. An inability to effectively cope with emotion can lead to mental disorders. Therefore, if a person has genes predisposing him or her to addiction, it is very likely he or she is also predisposed to mental illness.


Treatments for a person with a dual diagnosis must occur simultaneously. Both disorders are treated with various therapies, though the specific types differ for each disorder. When properly diagnosed and treated, patients suffering from bipolar disorder, with or without a dual diagnosis, can lead productive and fulfilling lives.