family of four on their living room couch

Bipolar disorder is a serious, often incapacitating mental health condition that causes a person to experience extreme, unpredictable shifts in their mood and energy levels. A person’s behavior, thought processes, and emotions are also subject to extreme swings.

Once called manic-depressive disorder, bipolar disorder starts in early adulthood and has a 2.8 percent prevalence in the US. About 4.4 percent of US adults will experience diagnosable bipolar disorder in their lifetime.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

In bipolar disorder, a person experiences severe depression, interspersed with periods of a normal (euthymic) mood, with occasional shifts to an unrealistically euphoric mood, called mania. Both “poles” of bipolar disorder are severe enough to interfere with a person’s ability to live a satisfying life. Bipolar depression and mania can be completely debilitating.

A person only needs to have one manic episode in their life to be diagnosed with mania; many people with bipolar disorder experience mania only a few times in their lives. Mania is the major characteristic that separates depression from bipolar disorder.

Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder

Depression phase. Although bipolar depression has many similarities with the major depressive disorders, people with bipolar depression tend to experience more intense feelings of guilt, restlessness, and irritability. They are also more vulnerable to psychotic depression.

Symptoms of depression associated with bipolar disorder include:

  • Powerful feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Feelings of despair, helplessness
  • Intense, persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness
  • Problems concentrating, poor focus, impaired memory
  • Irritability, sometimes temper outbursts
  • Inability to feel happiness or pleasure (anhedonia)
  • Fatigue, inadequate energy
  • Slowed movement, slowed speech—but conversely may also feel jittery and restless
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Trouble sleeping—too much or too little

Mania. Mania is profoundly destructive. A person in a manic phase has little to no control over their actions and is at the mercy of their impulses.

These are the symptoms of mania:

  • Unusually high levels of excitement, optimism, happiness, enthusiasm, or elation
  • Making grand plans or schemes that are infeasible
  • Increased impulsivity
  • Poor judgment
  • High levels of energy and restlessness
  • Sleep disturbances—often going for days without sleep
  • Spur-of-the-moment extreme decisions, like quitting one’s job
  • Rapid speech that flies from topic to topic
  • Racing thoughts
  • Grandiosity—feeling very important, popular, talented
  • Risky behavior and recklessness, such as promiscuity and unsafe sex, abusing drugs or alcohol, and spending sprees.
  • Rapid shifts from happy and ebullient to anger, hostility, rage
  • No regard and no insight into the negative consequences of their behaviors
  • Potential suicide attempts. Because of extreme impulsivity, people in a manic state are at an increased risk of killing themselves. 
  • Psychosis. A person may experience delusions or hallucinations

Hypomania. Hypomania is a milder form of mania with fewer extreme behaviors and overall less intense symptoms. A person having a hypomanic episode will not experience psychosis, hallucinations, or delusions.

Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder

One of the biggest risk factors for bipolar disorder is a person’s genetic inheritance. A person with a first-order relative with bipolar disorder has a 5 to 10 percent chance of developing the disorder themselves. This percentage increases to 40 to 70 percent for an identical twin.

Other risk factors for bipolar disorder include traumatic events in the past or family dysfunction in a person’s childhood. Some illnesses, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and asthma can also play a role. IBS and asthma in childhood are commonly found in the medical histories of adults with bipolar disorder.

Is Bipolar Hereditary?

Bipolar disorder is one of the most heritable psychological disorders, although it is not 100 percent genetic. Researchers have identified some genes that are consistently found in about 15 percent of people with bipolar disorder, and the condition is known to run in families.

These statistics describe the degrees of heritability found in bipolar disorder:

  • If a child has two parents with bipolar disorder, their chances of developing bipolar disorder will range from 50 to 75 percent.
  • If one parent has bipolar disorder and the other does not, a child will have a 15 to 30 percent chance of having bipolar disorder.
  • If you are a parent of one bipolar child, you have a 15 to 25 percent chance of having another child that will develop it.
  • Fraternal twins have a 4.5 to 5.6 percent chance of developing bipolar if one twin has it, but identical twins carry an 85 percent chance of having bipolar disorder.

How is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?

A diagnosis of bipolar disorder usually involves:

  •       A physical exam and lab test. Some physical conditions, like hyperthyroidism, can closely mimic bipolar disorder.
  •       A mental health evaluation. A mental health professional will perform an evaluation that includes collecting information about a person’s symptoms. A psychosocial evaluation and family history will also be conducted.

Can Bipolar Disorder be Treated?

Bipolar disorder responds well to a multi-pronged treatment approach that includes medication and talking therapy (psychotherapy). Over 50 percent of people with bipolar disorder also have substance abuse or alcohol use disorder, which needs specialized dual-diagnosis treatment. Dual-diagnosis treatment addresses both bipolar disorders and addiction disorders simultaneously.

Where Can Someone Get Help Deciding What Treatment is Right?

At Absolute Awakenings, we know that there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment plan that’s guaranteed to work for everyone. Bipolar disorder affects each person in different ways, especially when it co-occurs with SUD or AUD.

In addition to medication and psychotherapy, we offer a number of on-campus workshops. We also offer activities that assist with stress management, life-planning, relapse prevention, goal-setting, and more.

Start Treatment Today at Absolute Awakenings

Living with untreated bipolar disorder can be incredibly challenging. At Absolute Awakenings, we offer evidence-based strategies for alleviating the symptoms of this condition and successfully managing it over the long term. Call us today to find out more about the programs and services we provide or to start the intake process.

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