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Self-medication for bipolar disorder: A dangerous path

Posted on 05-11-2016 Posted in Coping, Medicine, Substance Abuse - 0 Comments

Self medication for bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder, with its wild swings between emotional highs and lows, is disorienting and frightening for both patients and those around them. The manic phase of bipolar disorder can make patients feel like they no longer need medication or therapy, stopping helpful treatment. Or patients can decide that they’re the best authority on their course of treatment, leading to self-medication.

Self-medication isn’t a wise choice for anyone, but it’s more dangerous for anyone with a mental health disorder. Medicine is helpful for treating mental illness, but it can be very dangerous if misused. The mood stabilizers and antipsychotics used in treatment for bipolar disorder are effective, but require careful dosing by a professional health care provider to minimize or avoid side effects. But when a course of treatment is abandoned or a prescriptions run out, some patients find a worse alternative.

Turning toward substance abuse for relief

A paper published in the journal Health Services Research in 2006 seemed to find a relationship between increased substance use and a lack of mental health care. Too often, people with undiagnosed mental health disorders turn to drugs and alcohol for relief. It’s a slippery slope; whatever initial effect the substances have in treating their symptoms, the side effects can make disorders far worse.

Like many mental disorders, bipolar disorder often co-occurs with substance abuse, particularly alcoholism. This is particularly dangerous, as mood stabilizers and alcohol should never be mixed. Bupropion, a drug often used to treat depression, can dangerously amplify the effects of alcohol, causing blackouts.

It’s a behavior that’s not merely restricted to those with a mental illness: According to a 2015 National Institutes of Health study, 42 percent of adults who drink do so while using a medication known to interact with alcohol.

What are bipolar disorders?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), bipolar disorder is a mental disorder characterized by unusual shifts in activity, energy and moods. Patients with the disorder experience two levels of moods: a manic phase, characterized by high energy levels and feelings of elation, and a depressive phase, characterized by feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

There are four types of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I: This variety features manic periods lasting at least seven days – or by manic symptoms requiring immediate hospitalization. Depressive episodes also occur, usually lasting at least two weeks. Patients can also experience manic and depressive symptoms simultaneously.
  • Bipolar II: Features the same pattern of depressive and manic symptoms, but the manic periods aren’t as severe.
  • Cyclothymic disorder: Patients with cyclothymia undergo periods of less-severe manic episodes – hypomanic episodes – as well as depressive symptoms lasting at least two years. However, in cyclothymia’s case, the symptoms are milder and do not meet the criteria for either manic or depressive episodes.
  • Other disorders: Other bipolar and related disorders feature the same symptoms, but do not match the requirements for bipolar I, II or cyclothymia.

NIMH reports the risk factors for these disorders can include brain structure, genetics and a family history of similar disorders – patients whose parents or a sibling had a bipolar disorder are much more likely to develop a disorder themselves.

Get treatment now

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition requiring a lifetime of management and care. With treatment and professional mental health intervention, bipolar patients can lead useful, enjoyable lives. Sovereign Health of Florida is a leading provider of substance abuse and mental health treatment. Our staff recognizes its patients as individuals, creating personally tailored plans to meet each patient’s needs to ensure the best chance at a lasting recovery. Please call our 24/7 helpline for more information.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at

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