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Bipolar is a mood disorder characterized by sudden, severe, and distinct energy and mood shifts between mania and depression. Some bipolar disorders may be at least in part a result of substance use, prescribed or unprescribed. Other variations of the disorder may occur without any precipitating substance use.
Bipolar disorder can be successfully managed through a combination of medication, lifestyle (diet, exercise, etc.) and supportive psychotherapy, but its more severe forms are unlikely to resolve without assertive treatment.
These swings greatly affect everyday life and are much more severe than the normal ups and downs experienced by the general population. There are several different classifications of bipolar depending on severity of symptoms and time between swings. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 2.6% of the U.S. population 18 and older has bipolar disorder and 83 % of those cases are considered severe and may include psychosis or suicidal attempts.
Bipolar disorder can be difficult to diagnose, and this is especially true in teens and young adults. With shifting hormones, personality development, individuation, and stressful life challenges, teens and young adults may exhibit traits of bipolar disorder but not actually have the disorder. Conversely, someone who truly does have the illness may not get properly diagnosed; they can struggle with serious mood swings for years and have it incorrectly chalked up to “being a teen”.
According to National Association for Mental Illness, the average age of onset is 25, but it can develop much earlier and some young people exhibit traits before the illness has completely set in. In fact, bipolar disorder appears before age 20 in about one in five individuals who experience mania in their lives.
Genetics. A family history of bipolar disorder is one of the strongest predictors of whether a person will develop the disorder. A person is ten times more likely to develop the disorder if they have a relative with bipolar I or II. The closer the degree of kinship, the higher the risk. Schizophrenia and bipolar are thought to share a genetic origin. However, genetics is not the only factor; there are cases of identical twins in which one twin develops the disorder and the other does not.
Events. Sometimes highly stressful or traumatic events can trigger the onset of the disease. Manic or depressive episodes have also been known to be triggered by drug use, both illicit and prescription. People have been known to experience manic episodes in response to various anti-depression medications.
As a co-occurring disorder with substance abuse, bipolar can be exceptionally dangerous. Because individuals with the disorder experience both highs and lows, they can self medicate with a variety of drugs in an attempt to alleviate their symptoms. This self medication of one extreme can result in an intense episode on the other end of spectrum, making the cycling more intense and challenging.
As with other substance abuse and mental health co-occurring disorders, the substance use may alter brain chemistry, making the mental health illness harder to treat. Individuals may also have a more difficult time getting the right bipolar disorder treatment and developing healthy coping skills if they are masking the mental health issue with substances, or if they are leaning on a drug to treat their symptoms.
Bipolar is a serious mental health issue and is also increasingly treatable. Various prescription medications, psychotherapy and mindfulness practices have proven effective to help those with the disorder cope and live healthy lives. If you think yourself or a loved one may have bipolar disorder, seek professional help. Because bipolar tends to be a long-lasting mental health challenge, the sooner an individual is diagnosed and receives proper treatment and healthful training, the more likely they are to develop a support plan that works for them.
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