Is there a connection between bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder?

Answer From Simon Kung, M.D.

Bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder, sometimes called alcoholism, often occur together. Although it isn't known what connects bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder, these factors likely play a role:

  • Genes. Differences in genes — not just a single gene — seem to affect brain chemistry linked to bipolar disorder. Having a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder raises the risk of having the condition. Genetic differences also may affect the way the brain responds to alcohol and other drugs, raising 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 it makes symptoms worse as time goes on. This can lead to more drinking, creating a harmful cycle that's hard to overcome.
  • Mania. When the mood moves to mania, people can feel unusually happy and have a lot of energy. They can be too self-confident, talk a lot more, have racing thoughts and become distracted. This can lead to bad judgment. People with mania are more likely to do things they usually wouldn't do. This also can lead to more alcohol use or drug misuse.

Bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder, or other types of substance misuse, can be a dangerous mix. Each condition can make the symptoms of the other worse. Also, having both conditions makes mood swings, depression, violence and suicide more likely.

If you have bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder or another addiction, you have what's known as a dual diagnosis. You may need to see a mental health professional who is an expert in treating both disorders.

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


Simon Kung, M.D.

Feb. 13, 2024