The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol Use

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Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder marked by notable fluctuations in energy levels and mood. Individuals with this mental health condition undergo mood swings that vary from highly elevated and energetic (manic episodes), to extremely low moods (depressive states). It is quite common for people with bipolar disorder to misuse mind-altering substances, including alcohol. The strong connection between bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder can be attributed to various factors. In this guide, we address issues that include:

  • What is the connection between bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder?
  • Why is bipolar disorder and alcohol use a bad combination?
  • How to connect with professional dual diagnosis treatment in California for bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction.

Self-Medicating with Alcohol for Extremes in Mood

Bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse can be closely interrelated. Living with the intense swings in mood and energy levels associated with bipolar disorder can be an incredibly challenging experience. Individuals with bipolar disorder may find themselves cycling between episodes of mania, characterized by heightened energy, euphoria, and impulsivity, and episodes of depression, marked by overwhelming sadness, lethargy, and a lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed. The emotional rollercoaster can be overwhelming, leading some people to seek relief through self-medication with alcohol.

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Alcohol, as a mind-altering substance, can offer a temporary escape from the intense emotional states that bipolar individuals experience. During depressive episodes, individuals may turn to alcohol to numb their pain, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness. The sedative effects of alcohol can momentarily alleviate the overwhelming emotional burden, providing a sense of calm and temporary relief from their inner struggles.

During manic episodes, by contrast individuals may be drawn to alcohol as a way to amplify the already heightened sense of euphoria and energy they experience. Binge drinking during these manic phases might intensify their feelings of invincibility, extroversion, and grandiosity. They may see alcohol as a way to sustain the exuberance of mania, at least for a short time.

Beyond this, the desire to self-medicate with alcohol can also be influenced by social factors. In social settings, drinking is often considered a norm, and individuals with bipolar disorder may engage in alcohol use to fit in or alleviate social anxiety. Unfortunately, this can further perpetuate the cycle of self-medication and exacerbate the challenges they face in managing their bipolar symptoms, potentially leading to a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and alcoholism.

While alcohol may provide momentary relief, self-medicating with alcohol is not a viable or healthy long-term coping strategy for managing bipolar disorder. In fact, it can have severe consequences, both physically and mentally. The use of alcohol to manage mood swings can lead to a dangerous pattern of alcohol dependence and abuse, making it even more challenging for those with bipolar and alcohol use disorder to address the underlying mental health condition effectively.

an image of a person dealing with bipolar disorder and alcoholism

Impulsive Behavior Tendencies

Individuals with bipolar disorder often experience impulsive behavior tendencies, which can be a significant challenge to manage. Impulsivity refers to acting on urges or desires without thinking about the potential consequences, and it is a common feature of both manic and depressive episodes in bipolar disorder.

During manic episodes, impulsivity can manifest in various ways. The person may engage in reckless behaviors like excessive spending sprees, risky sexual encounters, or substance abuse. The heightened sense of euphoria and invincibility during mania can lead to a distorted perception of risk, making the person more likely to engage in dangerous activities without considering the potential negative outcomes.

Mania can also result in rapid, disorganized thoughts, provoking impulsive decision-making and difficulty in maintaining focus on one task. This lack of focus can further inflame impulsivity, as the person may jump from one activity to another without completing anything.

Impulsivity can manifest differently during depressive episodes. The person may engage in self-destructive behaviors as a way to cope with overwhelming emotions or numb their pain. This can include self-harm, substance abuse, or even suicidal thoughts and actions. The intense emotional pain experienced during depression can drive individuals to seek relief through impulsive actions, even though these actions may lead to further harm in the long run. 

Impulsivity in bipolar disorder can also affect personal relationships and social interactions. The person may say or do things without considering the impact on others, leading to misunderstandings, conflicts, and damaged relationships. This can further contribute to feelings of guilt, shame, and isolation, which can worsen depressive symptoms.

Managing impulsive behavior tendencies in bipolar disorder requires a comprehensive treatment approach. Medication like mood stabilizers may help reduce the intensity of manic and depressive episodes, which can, in turn, help in controlling impulsivity. Additionally, psychotherapies like CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy), can be effective in helping individuals recognize triggers for impulsivity and develop healthier coping strategies.

Support from family and friends can also help with managing impulsivity. Loved ones can provide understanding, encouragement, and help the person stay on track with their treatment plan. Establishing a support network can provide a safety net during times of crisis and reduce the risk of engaging in impulsive behaviors.

Managing impulsivity in bipolar disorder requires patience, self-awareness, and a commitment to treatment. With the right support and resources, people with bipolar disorder can learn to navigate their impulsive tendencies and lead fulfilling, stable lives. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a courageous step toward managing the challenges of bipolar disorder and improving overall well-being 

Treatment for Bipolar & Substance Use Disorder

When a person has both bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder simultaneously, this is known as co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. Treating these co-occurring disorders effectively requires an integrated approach that addresses both conditions concurrently. Seeking professional help from a team of treatment specialists who understand the complexities of dual diagnosis can improve the chances of long-term success.

The initial treatment for co-occurring disorders may involve inpatient care, where individuals can receive intensive support and medical supervision. A combination of medication, therapy, and support groups are crucial components of ongoing treatment after the initial phase. Open communication with medical professionals and mental health experts is vital, as treatment plans may need to be adjusted to ensure optimal results.

Recovery from both bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder is possible with consistent, comprehensive, and personalized treatment. By addressing both conditions simultaneously, individuals can gain better control over their lives and pave the way for lasting recovery and improved well-being.

an image of someone dealing with a bipolar disorder and alcohol problem.

Get Compassionate Care for Dual-Diagnosis Disorders at California Detox

When mental health conditions and addictions collide, integrated and coordinated dual diagnosis treatment offers the most effective pathway to complete recovery. Here at California Detox in Laguna Beach, you or your loved ones can access evidence-based dual diagnosis treatment in a luxurious residential setting.

Our supervised alcohol detox programs allow you to address the issue of physical dependence on alcohol. Take advantage of medications and continuous care to create a firm foundation for ongoing treatment and sustained recovery. After a week or so, transition into ongoing inpatient treatment where you can benefit from these interventions:

Call 949.694.8305 when you are ready to move beyond bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse.


Yes, self-medicating is relatively common among individuals with bipolar disorder. Due to the intense mood swings and emotional fluctuations, some people may turn to substances like alcohol to cope with the extreme highs and lows, seeking temporary relief or a sense of control.
Yes, bipolar disorder and addiction disorder can be treated simultaneously through a comprehensive approach known as dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder treatment. This integrated approach addresses both conditions concurrently, recognizing their interconnected nature and offering tailored therapies for each disorder.


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