Bipolar Disorder and Alcoholism: Prevalence, Risks, and Treatment

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Bipolar Disorder is a relatively common mental health disorder typically known for intense mood shifts or changes. Before the American Psychiatric Association officially added Bipolar Disorder to the DSM, “Manic Depressive” was used to describe a person with Bipolar Disorder. People sometimes refer to themselves or others as “Bipolar” when they display intense emotions; however, it is suggested not to label someone “Bipolar” unless there is an official assessment and diagnosis from a mental health professional.  

Bipolar Disorder is a mental health diagnosis given to a person who shows dramatic shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels that disrupts a person’s daily functioning. These emotional shifts are much more intense than standard displays of emotion. Depending on the type of Bipolar Disorder, a person may cycle into states between clinically depressed states in which a person may show intense anger, self-harm, sadness, or isolation. Once a person with Bipolar has been in a state of depression, they may cycle into a manic state in which the person shows erratic behavior, beliefs of self-grandeur, lack of sleep, and display significant impulsivity. 

Bipolar Disorder and Alcoholism are two co-occurring disorders that are regularly seen together. Why does this happen? Research indicates that it could be a genetic component or that people with Bipolar Disorder may use alcohol to self-medicate, or perhaps the withdrawal of alcohol may trigger a manic or depressive state creating the cycle of drinking and mood symptoms. 

We will learn about what Bipolar Disorder is, How alcohol-use disorder co-occurs with Bipolar Disorder, and how one can seek treatment for the dual diagnosis

If you or someone you love has been struggling with an alcohol-use disorder and mental illness, Guardian Recovery is available to help. Our recovery program tackles all existing conditions simultaneously, assisting clients in maintaining recovery for years to come. Our dedicated and compassionate team of professionals has combined decades of experience in alcohol abuse and mental health and developed a comprehensive and highly individualized recovery program. If you want to learn more about your recovery options, please contact us today. 

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What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder is a mental illness that affects approximately 5.7 million Americans. The median age of onset for Bipolar Disorder is 25. However, children and older adults can receive a diagnosis. 

There are three types of Bipolar Disorder. All three types display the severe mood, activity, and behavioral shifts described. Manic and depressed moods are common to each kind of Bipolar Disorder; however, there are also hypomanic states with less severe manic symptoms. 

Types of Bipolar Disorder:

  • Bipolar 1 Disorder- Defined by having a manic episode for 7 days or hospitalization needed for manic care. Depressive episodes also occur, typically lasting 2 weeks. If a person has 4 or more episodes of mania and depression, this is identified as “rapid cycling.” 
  • Bipolar 2 Disorder- Defined by having a pattern of depressive and hypomanic episodes. Manic symptoms are less severe than in Bipolar 1. 
  • Cyclothymic Disorder- Defined by having a pattern of hypomania and depression that is not as severe or long-lasting as depression symptoms identified in Bipolar 1 or 2. 

Symptoms of a Manic Episode:

  • Feeling very high, elated, or highly irritable. 
  • Feeling jumpy or wired. 
  • Decreased need for sleep.
  • Talking in a fast-paced manner. 
  • Racing thoughts.
  • Able to do many things at once without being tired.
  • Excessive appetite for food, drinking, or sex. 
  • Feeling unusually important, talented, and powerful. 

Symptoms of a Depression Episode:

  • Feeling very down, sad, or anxious.
  • Feeling slow down or restless.
  • Trouble falling asleep or sleeping too much.
  • Talking very slowly or forgetting a lot.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Unable to do simple activities.
  • Lack of interest in almost all things.
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless.
  • Suicidal thoughts.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcohol-use disorder is a clinical diagnosis in which a person’s alcohol consumption has disrupted a person’s life through legal consequences, health problems, work or financial problems, or trouble with relationships. Alcohol abuse falls into a spectrum from mild to severe. In addition to issues that occur due to a person’s consumption of alcohol, a person with an alcohol-use disorder has a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms. 

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are two patterns of excessive drinking: 

Heavy Drinking: For women of all ages and men over 65- heavy drinking is defined as more than one drink per day or more than 7 drinks per week. For men under 65, heavy drinking is having 2 drinks per day or more than 14 drinks per week. 

Binge Drinking: Binge drinking is a pattern of alcohol consumption in which a person drinks a large amount of alcohol in a relatively brief period. It is defined as five or more standard drinks for men and four or more for women within two hours.

How do Bipolar Disorder & Alcoholism Interact?

The comorbidity of Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol-use disorder can reach up to 45%. There are some theories as to why this co-occurrence is so high. As mentioned previously, it could be related to a genetic predisposition, one may use alcohol to self-medicate due to the disruption of Bipolar symptoms, or the withdrawal of alcohol can trigger a manic episode.  

Because of the problematic nature of both diagnoses, the combination of Bipolar Disorder and AUD complicates the prognosis of treatment, increases the significant risk of medication and alcohol interaction, worsens both mental health symptoms and alcohol use symptoms, and increases the risk of suicide or violence. This research article indicates that 38.4% of individuals with alcohol-use disorder and bipolar disorder had a lifetime rate of attempted suicide, whereas those without alcohol-use disorder had a 21.7% rate. 

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What are the Negative Effects?

Because symptoms of Bipolar Disorder worsen with the use of alcohol disorder, there can be adverse effects when alcohol use and mental illness are combined. People may need to be hospitalized more often due to violence, suicidal tendencies, or self-harm. Additionally, the use of alcohol can create Bipolar episodes to emerge earlier in life than for people who do not chronically use alcohol. This may make treatment more challenging and risk intense mood or behavioral shifts. 

Finally, alcohol causes people who do have Bipolar to experience rapid cycles in which mania and depression escalate more frequently and intensely. This can be very challenging for individuals with mental health issues and their loved ones who desperately want to help. 

What Can Be Done?

You may wonder what one can do when struggling with Bipolar and alcohol-use disorder. It is essential that a person seek treatment for a dual diagnosis. At Guardian Recovery, we provide specialized treatment for those with mental health and alcohol-use disorder. 

Dual Diagnosis Services We Provide: 

  • Psychiatric assessments upon admission.
  • One-on-one sessions with an on-staff psychiatrist.
  • The prescription of antipsychotic medications as needed and medication management services.
  • Informational workshops that explore the connection between alcohol use and mental health – both for our clients and their loved ones.
  • A focus on the development of crucial life skills and healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Relapse prevention training that applies to both mental health concerns and alcohol dependence.

Common Elements of Dual Diagnosis Treatment: 

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Do you, or a loved one, have Bipolar Disorder and an alcohol-use disorder? At Guardian Recovery, we offer comprehensive and highly specialized clinical services geared towards helping men and women of all ages and all walks of life overcome long-term substance abuse and mental illness. Contact us today to learn more about our dual diagnosis program, to begin your personal journey of healing, or to help your loved one get started. You don’t have to navigate this alone. Call today to receive a free, no-obligation insurance benefits check and learn more about how we can help. 


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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