The relationship between bipolar disorder and drug addiction is a complicated one. Because the mood swings, energy fluctuations and impulsive behavior of bipolar disorder resemble the classic symptoms of addiction, it’s not always easy to tell where one illness begins and the other ends. What is certain is that a significant percentage of people with bipolar disorder also suffer from drug addiction. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that substance abuse is five times more common in people with bipolar disorder than in those who don’t have this diagnosis. When it comes to getting treatment for bipolar disorder and drug addiction, you need a program that provides support for both disorders.
What Makes the Combination So Dangerous?
Drug addiction and bipolar disorder can be a deadly combination. Even when drugs or alcohol aren’t involved, the emotional and physical side effects of bipolar disorder create a high risk of self-destructive behavior. During a manic episode, you might experience:
- An exaggerated sense of power or importance (grandiosity)
- A desire to engage in high-risk activities
- A heightened feeling of energy
- A decreased need for food or rest
After a manic period lasting for several days, weeks or months, a depressive episode may follow. The signs of a depressive episode include:
- Feelings of low self-esteem, hopelessness, sadness and despair
- Extremely low energy and fatigue
- Obsessive worries or anxiety
- Thoughts of self-injury or suicide
During a depressive episode, you may feel the urge to use a stimulant like cocaine, meth or amphetamines to balance out your moods and give yourself some energy. When you’re manic, you may want to reach for opiate medication, alcohol, tranquilizers or other central nervous system depressants. But once the initial effects of the drug wear off, your symptoms may be worse than ever. If you’re already taking psychoactive medication for bipolar disorder, illicit drugs can interfere with your meds. Using drugs to control bipolar symptoms is a trap that can quickly lead to addiction.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment Strategies
Treating a mental health condition without treating substance abuse, or vice versa, won’t help you in the long run, states the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Both bipolar disorder and addiction are complex illnesses that require intensive, individualized treatment strategies. When you’re treated for bipolar disorder and drug addiction at a facility that specializes in dual diagnosis treatment, you may go through the following stages:
- Evaluation. A clinical social worker, counselor or therapist will evaluate your mental and physical status to help you develop the right course of treatment. During this phase, your treatment team will decide what level of care is best for your specific condition.
- Detox. If you’ve been using drugs heavily, you may be referred to a medically supervised inpatient detox program, where the toxins can be cleansed from your body. If you are at an early stage of addiction, outpatient detox may be sufficient. The purpose of detox is to stabilize your body and clear your mind, so you can make the most of a rehab program.
- Dual diagnosis rehab. A dual diagnosis program for bipolar disorder and addiction provides education, support and behavior modification for both conditions. If you’ve never received treatment for bipolar disorder, you may be prescribed medications to help you stabilize your moods. You may also go through individual therapy and attend dual diagnosis support groups.
- Aftercare and maintenance. Bipolar disorder and drug addiction are chronic illnesses. Recovery is within your reach if you follow a comprehensive treatment plan, but there is no “cure” for either condition, and relapse rates are high. In order to maintain sobriety and lead a stable, emotionally healthy life, you’ll need to continue with counseling, medication therapy and self-help support groups after you graduate from rehab.
Finding a rehabilitation facility that offers a personalized approach to dual diagnosis treatment is your first step in recovery. Look for a center that’s staffed by professionals who are trained to treat both bipolar disorder and drug addiction. We encourage you to start your search by contacting us here at Axis to discuss our integrated dual diagnosis programs.