Understanding Bipolar Disorder: Symptoms and Treatment

Bipolar Disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. Previously referred to as manic-depressive illness, bipolar disorder can have serious negative effects on relationships, career goals, and school work if left untreated. With bipolar disorder, individuals experience shifts between lows (depressive) and highs (mania). 

Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

The unusually intense emotions associated with bipolar disorder can cause changes in sleep patterns, behaviors, and energy. The distinct period of emotion is referred to as “mood episodes”, which are distinctly different from the typical moods of the individual. The symptoms of mood episodes can differ for each individual. Some individuals will have manic episodes, depressive episodes, or a mixture of both.

Manic Symptoms:

A manic episode is an abnormally elevated state of behavior. People who are experiencing a manic episode display symptoms such as:

  • Feeling “jumpy”
  • Increased activity levels
  • Higher energy level
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Talking quickly about different topics
  • Irritability
  • Easily agitated 
  • Racing thoughts
  • Engaging in risky or dangerous behavior
  • Increased sense of well-being and self-confidence (euphoria)
  • Easily distracted
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Making grandiose plans 

Depressive Symptoms:

A major depressive episode causes a severe change in behavior and causes individuals to have noticeable trouble in normal day-to-day life. Individuals in a depressive episode will have symptoms like: 

  • Feeling very sad or anxious
  • Slowed down or restless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unable to accomplish simple tasks
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Feeling worthless or hopeless
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Talking very slowly
  • Restlessness 
  • Fatigue or energy loss
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Significant weight changes
  • Suicidal thoughts

Types of Bipolar Disorder 

There are four basic types of bipolar disorder. While they may present different symptoms, all of the types involve obvious changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. The moods will include periods of “up” (energized, elated behavior) manic episodes and “down” (hopeless, helpless behavior) depressive episodes. There are also periods of less severe manic periods known as hypomanic episodes. The four types of bipolar disorder are:

    • Bipolar I Disorder: Manic episodes last at least seven days or are so severe that hospitalization is often required. Depressive episodes usually occur as well, lasting at least two weeks. It’s also possible that individuals will experience episodes of depressive and manic symptoms simultaneously. 
    • Bipolar II Disorder: Characterized by depressive and less severe hypomanic episodes. 
    • Cyclothymic Disorder: Persistent hypomanic and depressive symptoms that are not severe enough to qualify as hypomanic and depressive episodes. Symptoms last around two years for adults and one year for children and teenagers. 
  • Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders: Defined by symptoms of bipolar disorder that do not match the above categories. 

Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse 

Although it’s not fully understood, individuals with bipolar disorder are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for bipolar disorder to co-occur with substance abuse disorders. The symptoms of substance abuse often complicate the diagnosis and treatment of a bipolar disorder. For example, a person with bipolar disorder may appear manic when they are actually under the influence or seem depressive when the substances wear off.

Bipolar Disorder Treatment 

Substances may make bipolar episodes more severe or frequent. Medication used to treat bipolar can also be less effective when the individual is using drugs or alcohol. If left untreated, substance abuse can make bipolar disorders symptoms unmanageable. That is why it’s so crucial to take a dual diagnosis approach when treating co-occurring disorders. Along with proper medication management, different psychotherapy techniques are used to treat substance abuse and bipolar disorder simultaneously.

Bipolar disorder is a complicated condition, especially when combined with addiction, but with the right treatment method recovery is possible. For more information on treatment and regaining control of your life, contact us today.

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