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Bipolar disorder is a widespread mental disorder, and those affected are often looking for ways to relieve their symptoms.

There is evidence suggesting that alcohol and bipolar disorder are a bad combination, but why is that so? This article will briefly look at what bipolar disorder is and how alcohol consumption may relate to the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Contents of this article:

  1. What is bipolar disorder?
  2. Symptoms of bipolar disorder
  3. Alcohol and bipolar disorder
  4. Is there a link between bipolar disorder and alcohol consumption?


What is bipolar disorder?

wooden figure with a sad shadow and a happy shadow
It is recommended to seek medical attention if someone has concerns about bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes sudden and irregular shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. It also affects the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

Bipolar disorder affects over 6 million adults in the United States alone. It has also been called manic-depressive illness or simply manic depression.

People with bipolar disorder experience both manic episodes and depressive episodes. A manic episode is a mood marked by a sense of being “on top of the world.” During a manic episode, people tend to feel intensely happy and extremely optimistic.

This can greatly affect their normal life. Racing thoughts and difficulty focusing on one task at a time can lead to people starting many projects, but not following through on any. In the manic stage, people may also make grand plans that are generally beyond what they can do.

Depressive episodes leave people feeling like they cannot focus on any task. These episodes are marked by feelings of despair, sadness, and loneliness.

People describing a depressive episode may say that they feel as if they’ve sunk into the darkest part of themselves with no way out and no end in sight.

There are three main types of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I disorder: marked by drastic changes to and from manic and depressive states. Manic states usually last for a week, or less if the person is hospitalized. Depressive states typically last for 2 weeks or more. Episodes that include a mixture of both manic and depressive symptoms at once are also possible.
  • Bipolar II disorder: often marked by a pattern of depressive episodes mixed with manic symptoms. Bipolar II disorder may not include full-length manic episodes or the full range of manic symptoms experienced by those with bipolar I disorder.
  • Cyclothymia: this may be the diagnosis for long-lasting manic or depressive symptoms that do not meet the requirements of an episode.


Symptoms of bipolar disorder

Humans themselves are prone to mood swings. Changes in diet, exercise levels, activity, and relationships can all cause changes in mood. Some may even appear like manic or depressive symptoms. These regular changes should not be confused with the long-term signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder. These symptoms affect a person’s daily life over long periods of time.

There are two main types of bipolar disorder symptoms: manic symptoms and depressive symptoms.

Common symptoms of manic episodes include:

  • Feelings of intense happiness over a long period of time
  • High self-confidence or self-esteem
  • Overindulging in pleasurable activities, such as overeating, shopping sprees, and risky sexual behavior
  • Rapid thoughts and speech
  • Distraction and an inability to focus on any one task

Common symptoms of depressive episodes include:

  • Extreme sadness or irritability
  • Feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Feelings of unending despair and suffering
  • Unnecessary anxiety
  • Feelings of guilt linked with any of the above feelings
  • Rapid weight loss or weight gain
  • Insomnia
  • Inability to focus on any task at all

These symptoms must be present for days or weeks to be called an episode. Only a trained psychologist or psychiatrist can make a proper diagnosis.


Alcohol and bipolar disorder

The symptoms of depressive and manic episodes are often enhanced by alcohol. It can depress the central nervous system, adding to the feelings of depression.

Alcohol also reduces a person’s inhibitions, which may make them behave irresponsibly. The combination of alcohol and bipolar disorder can not only be irresponsible but unsafe as well.

What is alcohol use disorder?

Alcohol use disorder may be the diagnosis for anyone who’s drinking affects their lives negatively. Though many people with alcohol use disorder are not yet dependent on alcohol to get through the day, it does disrupt their lives.

In the foreground are various empty bottles and in the background is a man drinking a beer
Signs of alcohol use disorder can differ from person to person.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder often start slow. Many symptoms may not even appear to be signs of a drinking problem. If symptoms build up, however, alcohol use disorder can have serious negative effects on a person’s life.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder vary in severity, and may include:

  • Bouts of drinking that last longer than intended
  • Cravings or urges to drink
  • Desires or attempts to cut back on drinking that have failed
  • A lot of time spent drinking, being drunk, or recovering
  • Drinking that interferes with daily life
  • Giving up on hobbies or activities simply to drink
  • Getting into situations that increase the chance of injury while drinking such as driving
  • Attempts to quit drinking causing symptoms such as shakiness, irritability, anxiety, nausea, or depression

Treating alcohol use disorder

Spotting an alcohol problem early on can help most people take action toward changing it. If it is caught early, most people can make the changes needed to keep themselves from being diagnosed.

The more symptoms that are present in a person, the more important it is that they change their habits. Sometimes a change of friends or even workplaces can be required. In some cases, advice from a health professional may be needed to correct a drinking disorder.

If someone has many of the symptoms above, they should discuss how to safely reduce alcohol consumption with their healthcare provider.


Is there a link between bipolar disorder and alcohol consumption?

lady does exercise whilst reading and drinking a tea
Substituting alcohol for a healthier and calming habit is suggested.

Both bipolar disorder and alcohol consumption cause changes in a person’s brain. Alcohol itself is both a depressant and a sedative, which is why many people use it to relax.

For people with bipolar disorder who are having a depressive episode, this is a problem. Alcohol consumption acts on the same brain regions as many depressant medications and may cause similar symptoms as depression.

That is not where the links stop, however. One study concluded that people with bipolar disorder are more likely to have episodes if they drink, no matter how much alcohol they have. This long-term study found a direct link between alcohol consumption and the rate of manic or depressive episodes, even though participants drank a relatively small amount of alcohol.

It is best for people to avoid alcohol if they or a loved one has bipolar disorder.

Alternatives to alcohol

As alcohol is seen by many as a relaxing way to end the day, it is important to replace the habit with something that is just as effective. A similar calming effect can be obtained through physical exertion, such as walking around the neighborhood or going to the gym.

Other calming habits include:

  • Drinking herbal teas such as chamomile
  • Meditation
  • Taking a warm bath

The use of aromatherapy also shows promise in reducing stress levels, blood pressure, and anxiety.

Whichever route is chosen, it is important that the habit of drinking is replaced with a healthier alternative.

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