Is there a connection between bipolar disorder and alcoholism?

Answer From Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D.

Bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder, sometimes called alcoholism, often occur together. Although the association between bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder isn't clearly understood, these factors likely play a role:

  • Inherited traits. Genetic differences appear to affect brain chemistry linked to bipolar disorder. These same traits may also affect the way the brain responds to alcohol and other drugs, increasing the risk of alcohol use disorder and addiction to other drugs.
  • Depression and anxiety. Some people drink to ease depression, anxiety and other symptoms of bipolar disorder. Drinking may seem to help, but in the long run it makes symptoms worse. This can lead to more drinking — a vicious cycle that's difficult to overcome.
  • Mania. This upswing from depression is usually characterized by an intensely elated (euphoric) mood and hyperactivity. It commonly causes bad judgment and lowered inhibitions, which can lead to increased alcohol use or drug abuse.

Bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder or other types of substance abuse can be a dangerous combination. Each can worsen the symptoms and severity of the other. Having both conditions increases the risk of mood swings, depression, violence and suicide.

Someone who has both bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder or another addiction is said to have a dual diagnosis. Treatment may require the expertise of mental health professionals who specialize in the treatment of both disorders.

If you've lost control over your drinking or you misuse drugs, get help before your problems become worse and harder to treat. Seeing a mental health professional right away is especially important if you also have signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder or another mental health condition.

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April 04, 2019 See more Expert Answers