Bipolar Disorder Treatment
Mental illness and mood disorders take many forms. Some are highly recognizable or easy to manage with a proper regimen, but others can be harder to detect and treat. Bipolar disorder can often prove problematic due to the variations and variable symptoms, especially for those without a proper bipolar diagnosis or approved approach to treatment. Additionally, bipolar disorder often plays a strong role in substance abuse. In fact, anywhere from 30% to 50% of those diagnosed with bipolar disorder also develop a usage disorder.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a condition that causes shifts in mood, activity levels, and thought patterns. It is often characterized by mania and depression. During a manic period, individuals with bipolar disorder feel energized, creative, and erratic. Bipolar presents in roughly 2.6% of the population, and 83% of all cases are considered to be severe. Age and gender can play a role in bipolar disorder, with an average onset age of 25 and a higher occurrence in women than men.
In some cases, manic periods can persist without impacting day to day life, a phenomenon known as hypomania. For others, mania is more likely to critically affect a normal lifestyle, interrupting work, school, and interpersonal relationships. In contrast, a depressed period results in feelings of hopelessness, irritability, sadness, and apathy.
Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder
Part of the difficulty in diagnosing and managing this particular condition originates from the variation between the different forms. While most mood disorders are characterized by a single set of diagnostic criteria, bipolar disorder can manifest in several different ways:
- Bipolar I: This subset of the mood disorder is characterized by the presence of at least one manic and one depressive episode.
- Bipolar II: This subset of the mood disorder is characterized by the presence of both hypomanic and depressive episodes, with a higher proportion of hypomanic periods. No manic behavior is displayed.
- Cyclothymia: This subset of the mood disorder is characterized by the pattern of both hypomanic and depressive symptoms for at least two years.
With this in mind, it's important to understand the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder. Doing so will provide greater insight into how bipolar mania/hypomania and depression affect those who live with it.
Mania and Hypomania
Bipolar disorder, in layman’s terms, is often explained as a series of highs and lows. Mania or hypomania occur during the "highs" of the disorder. During a state of mania, sufferers may feel energized, excited, animated, or sometimes even irritable. Many individuals experience a sense of motivation during a manic episode that drives the desire to undertake large projects or attempt to achieve unattainable goals— sometimes staying up for days in an attempt to make progress. During a manic phase, however, most individuals lack any awareness of the extent of their behavior.
Signs of mania include:
- A higher than usual sense of self-worth or self-esteem; manic individuals often feel as though they can do anything and be anyone, and that no one can stand in their way
- A lack of sleep; during mania, individuals may try to stay awake and active for days on end
- Talking more than usual, both at a quick cadence and at length
- Racing thoughts that are hard to manage or verbalize
- Increase in activities that require focus, like writing a book, completing a large puzzle, or inventing a solution to a problem.
- Participation in risky behaviors, like drinking, drugs, or sex.
Mania can last for several hours to several days. Sometimes, symptoms are mild and won't cause lasting effects, while severe cases can lead to an extreme upheaval in daily life.
On the other side of the spectrum, individuals struggling with this mood disorder spend a large portion of their time feeling depressed, sad, and anxious. Depressive episodes of bipolar disorder often manifest in a similar way to depression itself. As a result, individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder feel as though they are struggling to live normal lives without overwhelming lethargy and apathy standing in the way.
Symptoms of depressive episodes include:
- Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and hopelessness
- Loss of interest in hobbies, favorite activities, and friend groups
- Loss of appetite
- Lethargy or restlessness
- Fatigue, even after sleeping for prolonged periods of time
- Inability to concentrate on school, work, or other focused tasks
- Thoughts of death or wishing for death
It’s important to note that depressive episodes of bipolar disorder often last longer than mania, continuing for weeks or even months at a time. Additionally, depressive episodes have a higher probability of causing significant issues within school, work, and relationships.
Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder
While this mood disorder has no true cause, there are several risk factors doctors believe may increase the likelihood of a bipolar diagnosis.
Significant evidence exists linking bipolar disorder to brain functioning and structure. In some cases, brain injuries or the natural makeup of the brain may be the root of the disorder. Many doctors are studying the brain and exploring these theories to determine how and why bipolar disorder occurs.
Genetics is thought to play a large role in the development of this disorder. In fact, it’s been proven that bipolar disorder is ten times more likely to occur in an individual who has a family member with the disorder. This lends to the theory that there may be a chromosomal component of bipolar disorder that has yet to be discovered.
It’s very possible that gender may play a part as well. While Bipolar I can affect men and women equally, Bipolar II is far more likely to appear in women than in men. Women are also at higher risk for developing an alcohol use disorder in conjunction with bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse
As previously stated, as many as half of individuals with bipolar disorder are at risk of also developing a substance abuse disorder, ranging from binge drinking to heavy illegal drug use. In fact, the average number of dual diagnosis cases of substance abuse in conjunction with bipolar disorder is far higher than most other mental illnesses.
Seeking Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar treatments often combine psychotherapy with prescription medication to help patients control their feelings and manage the effects of the disease. While different patients will require different services, standard treatment includes:
- Psychotherapeutic techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy, family psychoeducation, and interpersonal and social rhythm therapy
- Medications like lithium, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants
- Alternative practices like Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), but only in rare cases
The Importance of Keeping Faith after the Diagnosis
When diagnosed with a mood disorder, many Christians believe that their unmanageable behavior is the will of God. They may feel as though God is cursing them, or that they made a mistake and caused their condition.
This, of course, is not true. Mental illness, while problematic until under control, is not a curse from God or a sign that you have fallen out of his favor; it's a consequence of life on earth. God loves those with bipolar disorder as much as he does the rest of his followers, and it’s important to remember that your diagnosis— as well as any co-occurring substance addiction— is not your fault.
As a Christian, coming to terms with this kind of dual diagnosis can be extremely trying. It's hard to feel as though you're living up to God's word when your life is spinning away from you. With the right help, however, it's possible to get proper treatment, recover from addiction and recommit yourself to the Lord.
Let Road to Freedom Make a Difference
At Road to Freedom, we combine psychotherapy with medication to help you manage your symptoms and address your struggles with addiction. In our Christian center, we are able to balance proven medical solutions with prayer, helping you to strengthen your relationship with God while overcoming the challenges in your life. If you are struggling with bipolar disorder and substance addiction, Road to Freedom can help. Contact us today at (844) 402-3605 to learn more.