Alcoholism is associated with several different mental health illnesses; it is prominently found in people who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Excessive drinking is often used to self-medicate and dull the symptoms that are commonly found in bipolar disorders. People with bipolar disorder have specific brain chemistry caused by genetic differences. This can affect the way the brain responds to alcohol, increasing the risk of addiction. 

Aside from these inherited traits, people with bipolar disorder drink because they have severe mood swings. They feel the need to reduce their depression and manage their manic episodes

The Dangers of Alcohol and Mental Health


It is unknown why there is such a unique relationship between bipolar disorder and substance abuse. One theory is that people who struggle with mental health disorders drink excessively as a way to self-medicate. Alcohol is a depressant; it can dampen emotions and cause the body to enter into a relaxed state. An individual’s genetics and environment could also be responsible for how the connection is formed. However, there is no definitive answer as to why people with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop. The most common explanation medical professionals adhere to is a person with one type of mental condition is more likely to create another. 

It may be common for people who have bipolar disorder to seek refuge from their symptoms through alcoholism. However, they usually do not realize the consequences of their actions. Drinking is known to worsen symptoms of depression and will eventually make mood swings more intense, causing them to drink even more to compensate. What follows is the vicious cycle of addiction as their substance abuse worsens their mental health, and their disorder continues to fuel their drinking.

Bipolar disorder and alcoholism can be a dangerous combination that often leads to more hospitalizations and an increase in mood swings. Because of the inherent dangers of having a co-occurring disorder, people with bipolar disorder and alcoholism need specialized treatment. Mental health problems can dramatically increase the risk of relapse if the symptoms are not treated in conjunction with a person’s addiction.

How Alcohol Affects the Brain

When alcohol enters the body’s system, it latches on to the receptor sites GABA, glutamate, and dopamine. GABA and glutamate are chemical messengers in the brain that control the level of excitement in the brain. Dopamine, another neurotransmitter, is responsible for the euphoric high the brain releases to reward the body. This is commonly known as a “runner’s high.” When alcohol interferes with these sites, it causes disruption and can influence thoughts, emotions, actions, and mental health.  

Types of Bipolar Disorder

Nearly 205% of the population in the United States have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. There are a few different types of bipolar disorder with symptoms that range from the minor to the extreme. 

Bipolar I Disorder:

Bipolar I Disorder is the most extreme form of the illness that an individual can develop. It often causes extreme reactions of happiness and excitement that can quickly deteriorate. The deterioration usually leads to overwhelming sadness and severe depression. Mania is another symptom of Bipolar I Disorder; often, the affected person cannot understand what is happening around them.

Manic episodes can increase the effects of a mood swing and produce abnormal behavior, such as:

  • Rapid Speech
  • Insomnia and Hyperactivity
  • Egotistical Sense of Self
  • Excessive Spending
  • Hypersexuality
  • Substance Abuse

Bipolar II Disorder

Bipolar II Disorder is not as severe as Bipolar I; however, it still causes elevated moods such as excitement and joy or sadness and depression. Though both instigate intense mood swings, Bipolar II never reaches the high manic stages commonly found in Bipolar I Disorder. Instead, it is characterized as hypo-mania, meaning that an affected person can have mood swings but will always be in touch with reality. It is common for Bipolar II Disorder to be diagnosed incorrectly as depression, which is where the term “manic-depression” comes from.

Not Otherwise Specified (NOS)

Not Otherwise Specified is a term used when a Bipolar diagnosis is unable to be given due to the unpredictable nature of emotions and behavior. Due to the inconclusive nature of the symptoms, it is not possible to label a person experiencing it as Bipolar.

Rapid Cycling:

Rapid Cycling is diagnosed when an individual has experienced four more occasions of mania, hypomania, and/or depressive episodes in one year. The person who suffers from Rapid Cycling will experience extremely high and low emotions and will often cause mood swings at random intervals. Rapid Cycling tends to come upon the individual unexpectedly and is then followed by a period of stabilization until the cycle begins again.

alcoholism and bipolar disorder treatment in st. augustine florida

Facts about Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol

  • People with bipolar disorder are eleven times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol than the general population.
  • Alcohol is the leading precipitator of depressive episodes in people with the disorder
  • 46.2% of people with severe bipolar disorder have an alcohol dependency.
  • People with the illness often choose substances over medication for fear of mixing the two.
  • Manic episodes can lead to excessive drinking because of their increased risk-taking behavior.

Recovery from Alcoholism and Bipolar Disorder

To effectively treat a person with bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction, they must get help from dual diagnosis experts. Our mental health and addiction treatment center in St. Augustine, Florida, has programs that encourage recovery from substance use disorders and developing mental illnesses.

Bipolar disorder can be an especially difficult illness to live with. The struggles of addiction only make the situation more complicated and painful to experience. Our therapists and counselors are trained to understand the influence of specific psychological issues on substance abuse. Our staff has the experience and ability to help those dealing with these complex issues so that they can make a full recovery.

Even with a severe mental illness like bipolar disorder, it is possible to live drug and alcohol-free. Our goal is to help our patients improve their psychological health and lead a more productive and positive life through dual diagnosis recovery treatment.