Why do People with Bipolar Disorder Binge Drink?

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by unusual shifts in energy levels and mood. Those with this mental health
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Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by unusual shifts in energy levels and mood. Those with this mental health condition experience moods that range from extremely elevated and energetic, which are known as manic episodes, to extremely low or depressive moods. It’s very common for people with bipolar disorder to misuse mind-altering substances including alcohol. There are several reasons there’s such a strong relationship between bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder. Read on to learn more. 

Attempting to Self-Medicate Extremes in Mood

It can be hard to live with the extremes in mood and energy levels that define bipolar disorder. When a person with bipolar disorder drinks alcohol, they often feel a sense of relief from the intensity of very high or very low emotions. Mood swings can make a person feel out of control, and alcohol may seem to help provide a sense of control, at least at first.

Alcohol has an impact on both mania and depression. It can calm nervousness and anxiety, and binge drinking in particular can give a quick lift in mood to a person with bipolar disorder who’s experiencing a depressive episode. People with bipolar often enjoy the energy and exhilaration that goes with mania, and binge drinking can intensify these feelings, at least temporarily. Heightened mania and a sense of relaxation are some of the reasons that people with bipolar disorder binge drink.

Bipolar Disorder and Medication

When a person with bipolar disorder is first diagnosed, it may take some time to find a medication that’s effective in controlling all the symptoms of this condition. A sense of frustration at still feeling out of control even while in treatment can cause a person to look for another way to relieve their symptoms.

Bipolar disorder is associated with impulsive and risk-taking behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse, shopping sprees, and driving under the influence. It’s extremely important for a person with bipolar disorder to stay on their medication as skipping doses or stopping the medication altogether can cause an increase in symptoms, which often include risky or dangerous behaviors. Therapy can help someone with bipolar better understand their diagnosis, including the relationship between medication and recovery.

Treating Co-Occurring Conditions

Bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder are often treated separately, but when an individual has both conditions it’s best to treat these co-occurring conditions at the same time. Treating one but not the other is likely to cause symptoms of the other to intensify. Having both conditions at the same time without treatment can increase symptoms such as hopelessness, mood swings, and out-of-control behavior.

The treatment of co-occurring disorders, or dual diagnosis, should be provided by a team of treatment professionals who work together to treat the different aspects of both conditions. Initial treatment is sometimes done on an inpatient basis. Treatment with medication, therapy, and support groups will continue to be ongoing after inpatient or outpatient treatment has been completed.

It’s important for anyone with a dual diagnosis of both bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder to stay in close contact with their doctor or mental health professionals and let someone know if the current treatment approach isn’t working. Alcohol use disorder and bipolar disorder are both treatable conditions, and long-term continuous treatment can help keep symptoms under control.

If you or a loved one is struggling with bipolar disorder and substance abuse, we’re here to help. At Clearview, our clinicians have experience with and expertise in treating dual diagnosis at our Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center, our Women’s Treatment Centerand our outpatient treatment centers. Call us today at 855.920.4605 or fill out our contact form


1. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-2/103-108.htm

2. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder

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