Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health condition where individuals experience intense shifts in their mood and energy levels. This disorder can have a huge impact on a person’s ability to handle everyday activities. However, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that bipolar disorder is difficult to identify in the early stages.1 In many cases, bipolar disorder symptoms can be explained away. Some people might even hide their distress from the people they love. As a result, it’s not uncommon for people to spend years or even decades engaged in a battle against bipolar disorder.

Sadly, some people turn to addictive drugs as a way to cope with bipolar disorder. Thankfully, astute family members can spot the signs, and when they do, treatment providers have comprehensive programs to help. If you need assistance now, please contact us at Black Bear Lodge today to speak with someone who cares.

Differing Displays

Distressed man in street crowdBipolar disorder is often characterized by intense moods, but the various ways the condition manifests can be quite different in different people. In fact, there are four different types of bipolar disorder that are recognized.Each has a separate subtype with its own specific symptoms.

For example, those who have bipolar I disorder often have intense periods of creativity and energy where they do not sleep, eat or rest. They also may seem jumpy and twitchy. These individuals often engage in reckless behavior, such as:

  • Spending huge amounts of money
  • Driving too fast
  • Sharing intimate information on social media
  • Buying stocks and bonds without researching the activity
  • Quitting or starting jobs
  • Having sex with strangers

These episodes of mania are contrasted with depressive episodes where people feel so low that they simply can’t get out of bed. These individuals may feel worthless, hopeless or helpless. Making decisions is difficult, and planning for the future often seems futile.

In spite of these depressed periods, people with bipolar I disorder may have balanced moods and may not be able to control the shift from one extreme to another. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance suggests that one or two cycles like this per year is common, and mania typically takes place in the spring or fall when the seasons change.2

Those who have bipolar II disorder don’t tend to have these huge swings and intense shifts, but they do have subtle periods of happiness that are followed by a serious shift to depression. Their highs may not be extreme, but their lows are certainly difficult to deal with. Similarly, some people have a form of bipolar disorder known as cyclothymia. This term means individuals shift from mild mania to mild depression. Their symptoms aren’t severe enough to receive a diagnosis of having bipolar I disorder, but the feelings they experience are more powerful than those felt by people who have strong mental health.

Some people have some symptoms of these disorders, but their problems are somewhat unique, so they don’t allow the person to fit into one diagnostic category. They may not have enough manic symptoms, for example, or their problems may be new to them. They may not shift very often, or have enough symptoms of depression. People like this may be given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (BP-NOS).

Living with Bipolar Disorder

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 2.8% of adults in the United States had bipolar disorder in the past year.3 While these individuals have their own challenges and their own stories to tell, most people who have untreated forms of bipolar disorder live in a difficult or uncomfortable state. An episode of mania can be so intense that individuals are incapable of cooking, cleaning, going to work or caring for their children.

Some people are unable to concentrate, going from one half-finished project to another. Others may become delusional, believing they are famous or wealthy. Some people might feel fabulous during this time, but some feel unable to relax or to quiet down. When the emotions wear off, they’re asked to deal with the consequences of their behavior, and some might even be asked to explain why they acted in such a reckless manner. These might be questions that are difficult, or even impossible, to answer.

The depression of bipolar disorder can be crippling and last for months on end. People might just be unable to improve, even as the people around them tell them to get up and do something about their mood. Nothing seems to help, and no changes seem to make any difference at all.

Some forms of bipolar disorder allow people to shift from one mood to another in just minutes, cycling from happy to sad again multiple times each day. People like this might even have mixed episodes in which they feel both mania and depression at the same time. They may have no control over their feelings at all, during these episodes, and they may be terrified about what they might do.

Some people turn to addictive drugs like alcohol or heroin, as a way to cope with their emotional responses. When they feel too high, they may take a drug to push them back down to normalcy. When they feel low, they can take a drug to boost their energy level. It seems reasonable, but unfortunately, it’s also a dangerous strategy. Addictive drugs can erode portions of the brain that deal with impulse control and mood regulation, which might make mood swings more common and more intense.

Getting Better

For people with bipolar disorder, finding the right treatment program is key to long-term success. In many cases, medication, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are used to treat bipolar. CBT is used to help the individual manage symptoms, avoid triggers for relapse, and solve problems.4 The right form of treatment can give the individual confidence and show the path to success.

In a formal program for bipolar disorder, experts can provide medications that soothes the imbalances in the brain that tend to lead to intense moods, and while people with this condition might need to take their medications for the rest of life, doing so could keep mood shifts from coming back. Some programs even put people with bipolar disorder into support groups, so they can learn from their peers and develop intense skills that can serve them in the years that follow.

Therapy can be challenging as it involves both patience and learning. Individuals impaired by drugs normally don’t have success in bipolar treatment their mind is focused on obtaining or using drugs. Only when an individual is sober are they able to really focus on moving forward.

For anyone with people with bipolar disorder and a substance abuse problem, a program like ours at Bear Lodge might be the right place to start. We can help you get sober in a safe environment and lay the groundwork that will give you control over their mental illness and your recovery. Please call now at 706-914-2327 to get more information about our treatment process.

1Bipolar Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health. November 2015.

2 “Rapid Cycling and its Treatment.” Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Accessed 6 February 2018.

3Bipolar Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health. November 2017.

4Bipolar Disorder Treatment.” Helpguide. January 2018.