What is the Relationship Between Alcohol and Bipolar Disorder?

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Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 1/09/2022

Bipolar disorder affects millions of Americans and causes mood changes. People with bipolar disorder can experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, mania, and other mental health issues. While bipolar disorder causes changes in brain function, medications improve bipolar disorder and how it impacts the brain and body.

What are the Types of Bipolar Disorder and how do They Affect Alcoholism? 

There are many types of bipolar disorder and they vary based on the individual's brain. While the types of bipolar disorder vary, the way they impact the brain and body is negative in most cases.

The common types of bipolar disorder are listed below.

  • Bipolar I disorder 

  • Bipolar II disorder 

  • Not otherwise specified (NOS)

  • Cyclothymia 

  • Rapid cycling 

1. Bipolar I Disorder 

Bipolar I disorder is a severe type of bipolar disorder. The condition results in manic episodes that last for up to 7 days and depressive episodes that last for up to 2 weeks. In some cases, bipolar I disorder can result in severe manic episodes that require immediate care and hospitalization. Bipolar I disorder is a serious condition and alcohol consumption should be limited because it causes adverse effects. These effects include increased risks of depressive episodes, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, and severe manic episodes.

2. Bipolar II Disorder 

Bipolar II disorder is similar to bipolar I disorder. The difference between bipolar I disorder and bipolar II disorder is that bipolar II disorder is less severe. While there are instances of manic episodes and depressive episodes, these episodes are often shorter and less severe. In fact, many bipolar II disorder cases don't result in the need for intensive care. Instead, bipolar II disorder is treated by therapy and some medications. Alcohol affects bipolar II disorder by worsening symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can also reduce the effectiveness of bipolar medications. The risks of combining the substances vary but include increased risks of alcohol abuse, substance abuse, and more intense depressive and manic episodes.

3. Not Otherwise Specified (NOS) 

Not otherwise specified (NOS) cases of the bipolar disorder occur when people don't have frequent enough symptoms of bipolar disorder to be classified as bipolar I or bipolar II disorder. While manic and depressive episodes are less frequent in these cases, they still occur and cause adverse reactions. These reactions are made worse when alcohol is consumed. In fact, alcohol consumption can trigger manic episodes and depressive episodes in people who suffer from NOS disorder.

4. Cyclothymia 

Cyclothymia is a less severe case of bipolar disorder. In fact, it's often not diagnosed as bipolar disorder because it requires different treatment. Cyclothymia causes changes in mood that result in euphoria and depression but are less intense than bipolar disorder. Episodes that occur in cyclothymia are typically shorter in duration and side effects are less intense. Cyclothymia also has adverse reactions to alcohol. When consumed with alcohol cyclothymia symptoms often worsen. Some adverse effects include triggered episodes, longer durations of episodes, and suicidal thoughts. 

5. Rapid Cycling 

Rapid cycling occurs when an individual with bipolar disorder experiences four or more manic episodes or depressive episodes in one year. These episodes are often random and can occur at non-specific times. Like other bipolar conditions, these episodes vary in intensity depending on the individual. Consuming alcohol with rapid cycling can cause adverse effects and even induce manic or depressive episodes. Some other harms include lowered inhibitions and higher risk-taking behaviors. Rapid disorders can also occur in people who have bipolar I or bipolar II disorder with a 10-15% chance of the condition occurring.

What are the Factors that Show the Relationship Between Alcohol and Bipolar Disorder

Several factors show the relationship between alcohol and bipolar disorder. The relationship between alcohol and bipolar disorder depends on the person and how they interact with alcohol.

Some common factors that link alcohol and bipolar disorder are below.

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Mania 

  • Inherited traits 

1. Depression and Anxiety 

Bipolar disorder causes mood swings and mood changes. These mood changes can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms. When someone suffers from depression and anxiety, they're more likely to use alcohol and other substances as a treatment method or coping mechanism. Therefore, depression and anxiety during bipolar episodes can lead to alcohol abuse and substance abuse. Using alcohol as a treatment method for anxiety and depression leads to a cycle of abusing substances to treat these conditions.

2. Mania 

Mania occurs when someone who suffers from bipolar disorder (or another mental health condition) feels euphoric for short periods. These instances of mania or manic episodes cause hyperactivity in some people with bipolar disorder. When hyperactivity and euphoria occur, people are more likely to interact with alcohol and other drugs. Mania also leads to lowered inhibitions, which can also be a risk factor for abusing alcohol and other substances.

3. Inherited Traits

Inherited traits are genes and traits that develop in people because of genetics passed down from parents, grandparents, and other relatives. These traits influence how a person develops, acts, and even their personality. In some cases, bipolar disorder is inherited from parents and other relatives. Bipolar disorder interacts with the brain and changes how a person's mood fluctuates. Alcohol also interacts with the brain, which can change how alcohol influences brain activity and brain receptors. Combining bipolar disorder with alcoholism can create adverse mental health issues and co-occurring disorders.

What are the Statistics that Show the Relationship Between Alcohol and Bipolar Disorder?

The statistics between alcohol and bipolar disorder reflect problematic outcomes. These outcomes and statistics are listed in the table below.

Can Someone With Bipolar Disorder Drink Alcohol? 

Yes, people with bipolar disorder can physically drink alcohol. In some cases, people with bipolar disorder can drink alcohol in small amounts if it's cleared by medical professionals. That said, drinking alcohol with bipolar disorder comes with many risks. These risks include higher chances of alcohol abuse, an increased risk of manic episodes, and worse bipolar symptoms when blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches 0%.

What Causes Bipolar Individuals to Drink?

Bipolar individuals drink because alcohol consumption can temporarily alleviate symptoms of bipolar disorder. While drinking alcohol can temporarily enhance the mood in people who suffer from bipolar disorder, using alcohol as a coping mechanism increases the risk of developing a dependency on alcohol. For this reason, people who have bipolar disorder should not drink alcohol. People who take medications for bipolar disorder should also not mix alcohol and bipolar medication because of the risk of side effects.

How Does Alcohol Affect Bipolar Medication? 

Alcohol interacts with bipolar medications in ways that cause drowsiness, loss of consciousness, and even death. Many medications that treat bipolar disorder are central nervous system depressants, so they slow down communication between neurotransmitters in the brain. The result is slowed brain function and motor function. This causes slurred speech, drowsiness, and more. When combining alcohol and bipolar medication, driving and other activities become dangerous and even fatal.

One example is the way that alcohol interacts with bupropion (Wellbutrin XL). Wellbutrin interacts with alcohol in ways that increase the risk of hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, paranoia, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress, and more. Another example is how alcohol interacts with anti-anxiety medications used to treat bipolar disorder. Medications made with benzodiazepines like clonazepam interact with alcohol in ways that cause anxiety, depression, drowsiness, and slowed breathing.

Mixing alcohol and bipolar disorder medications is never a good idea.

What are the Treatment Methods of Bipolar and Alcoholism 

Bipolar disorder is treated by medications and counseling. Medications like clonazepam and Wellbutrin are used to manage symptoms like depression and anxiety. When it comes to counseling, many therapists use cognitive behavioral therapy to provide patients with the tools necessary to overcome bipolar episodes, manic episodes, and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Bipolar disorder is often treated over many years and severe cases can require intensive outpatient care or even inpatient care.

On the other hand, alcoholism is caused by abusing alcohol. Alcoholism occurs when people frequently consume alcohol over many years. In some cases, alcoholism can also result in episodes of blacking out or binge drinking. Alcoholism is treated in many ways depending on the severity of the addiction. More severe cases require medical detox and inpatient rehabilitation, while less severe cases require outpatient therapy and counseling.

Sometimes, alcohol and bipolar disorder can occur in the same person. When this happens, it's known as a co-occurring disorder. In these cases, medical professionals treat bipolar disorder and alcoholism in similar ways. These treatment methods include inpatient care, outpatient therapy, medically-assisted detox, and medications.

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Thomas Roth
Lead Editor

Thomas has been working in the substance abuse industry for over 3 years and he's made it his mission to help those in need. Tom started out by writing content to help people find addiction treatment centers near their location. Once he understood the value in the words he wrote Tom shifted to outreach, editing, and content creation. If nothing else, Tom wants to see those who struggle with Alcohol abuse disorder recover.