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Drug and alcohol abuse bring chaos and uncertainty to the lives of the abusers, along with their entire families. The situation is only compounded when an addict also suffers from bipolar disorder, a form of mental illness that is disturbingly common among people with substance abuse issues.The dual presence of chemical dependency and bipolar disorder calls for urgent intervention, before this potent combination runs out of control and leaves the victim helpless to find sobriety or a peaceful existence. Treatment services must be provided for each co-occurring condition, to prevent relapse into substance abuse and to keep bipolar disorder from establishing even deeper roots.

The existence of dual disorders can be difficult to detect, since substance abuse symptoms so often overlap with those of mental illness. But the caring professionals at FootPrints BHC have the training and expertise to distinguish the subtle differences.

If your struggle or the struggle of your loved one to overcome addiction is complicated by a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder, we are ready to lend a helping hand. Reach out and take it and we will lift you up out of the abyss.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

If you’ve ever been on a rollercoaster ride, you may have experienced something similar to bipolar disorder. But while a real rollercoaster can be fun and exciting bipolar disorder is disorienting and frightening.

Bipolar disorder plays havoc with your emotions, leaving you dazed, confused and upset as you alternate between depression and extreme excitement or hyperactivity. The latter state is known as ‘mania,’ or in its less severe form as ‘hypomania.’

There is nothing pleasant about any of this. The symptoms of bipolar disorder, in either of its two definitive emotional states, will leave you feeling helpless and miserable.

Bipolar I

Manic episodes of seven days or longer alternate with periods of depression that last 14 days or longer.

Bipolar II

Depression and hypomania manifest in succession. The highs are not as intense as experienced in Bipolar I but are still identifiable and disruptive.

Rapid Cycling Bipolar

Sufferers will experience four or more interludes of mania and depression in a single year. Up to 20 percent of bipolar sufferers experience this devastating variant of the disorder.

Mixed Bipolar

Depression and mania both occur but symptoms are often jumbled, displaying simultaneously instead of separately.


Ups and downs alternate but neither state is as deep or profound as with other types of bipolar disorder. In some instances cyclothymia will transform into a more serious form of bipolar.

The Signs of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar is unique in that its symptoms come in two sets, both of which will be experienced at one time or another by anyone who has this condition. The severity and depth of depression and mania episodes may vary, but on each side of the bipolar disorder dividing line there is an internal consistency that gives the condition its distinctive Jekyll-and-Hyde identity.

Symptoms of Bipolar Depression:

  • Deep sadness that doesn’t fade
  • Loss of motivation to perform even the simplest of activities
  • Unexplained anxiety or panic attacks
  • Appetite changes accompanied by weight gain or loss
  • Lethargy and a lack of energy
  • Sleep pattern disruptions; e.g., nighttime insomnia and/or frequent daytime napping
  • Inability to focus or concentrate; a lack of decisiveness in decision-making
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or other long-term interests
  • Suicidal thoughts or self-destruction actions


Symptoms of Bipolar Mania or Hypomania:

  • Increased energy and endurance
  • Restlessness, an inability to sit still
  • Reduced need for sleep
  • Racing, uncontrollable thoughts
  • Excessive, rapid-fire speech
  • Irrational behavior or impaired judgment
  • Exaggerated feelings of self-importance; unrealistic plans or ambitions
  • A disorganized or disordered approach to daily activities
  • Delusions or hallucinations

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a condition of the brain that leaves suffers unable to regain their emotional equilibrium. What makes bipolar distinct from simple depression is that the lows are always followed by highs, with no middle ground or any other state that resembles normalcy ever obtainable.

There is no specific identifiable cause of bipolar disorder, but there are several risk factors that may leave you vulnerable to its disturbing effects:


  • A family history of bipolar or other types of mood disorders
  • Seasonal changes, especially in climates where the weather can be extreme
  • Cyclothymia, which can eventually transform into a more impactful form of bipolar
  • Prolonged or severe stress
  • Lack of sleep over an extended period
  • Serious problems or conflicts at work or school
  • Arguments with loved ones or other types of tension in relationships
  • Constant financial difficulties
  • Substance abuse

If you or a loved one begins to experience significant, uncontrollable mood swings in combination with these life situations, you should seek out the services of a mental health professional who can diagnose bipolar disorder or any other type of mental health condition that might be present.

Why Do Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse Occur Together?

Here are some possible reasons for the troubling connection:

  • Men and women with mental health disorders often self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to help cope with their symptoms. This is especially true when the mental health conditions are undiagnosed.
  • Drinking and using drugs may lead to swings in emotion, possibly leading to depression or mania depending on the types of chemical substances used. If this continues for a prolonged period those mood swings may take on a life of their own.
  • People with bipolar disorder are prone to excessive risk-taking, which may lead to more reckless behavior involving drugs and alcohol.
  • Judgment and decision-making faculties may be impaired by mental health disorders, leaving bipolar sufferers unable to detect their substance abuse problems in the early stages.
  • Someone who has a diagnosed bipolar disorder or substance abuse disorder may be so focused on it they simply don’t notice other health problems when they arise.
  • The altered brain chemistry of bipolar disorder may increase a person’s vulnerability to addiction. Or perhaps neurological changes associated with addiction increase the chances of bipolar disorder developing.

Why is it So Hard to Diagnose Bipolar and Substance Abuse Together?

Mood swings and unpredictable behavior are the calling cards of bipolar disorder, but they are also common among those who have been abusing drugs and alcohol. This makes it harder to recognize that two conditions may be present rather than only one, especially if one of the problems has been previously diagnosed.

If you know you have bipolar disorder you and your family members may not realize some of your thoughts, actions and behaviors are the result of substance abuse. This will be especially true if you’ve been hiding your drinking and drug use from your loved ones—and if you have it probably means you’re in denial and have also been hiding the truth from yourself.

On the other hand, if your issues with drugs and alcohol are obvious it will be easy for everyone to blame them for all your troubles. The existence of a co-occurring disorder may not be suspected, and might never be diagnosed at all unless your drug and alcohol use is evaluated by professionals who are skilled at uncovering underlying mental health conditions—like we are at FootPrints BHC, for example.



Approximately 5.7 million men and women in the United States currently suffer from bipolar disorder. This represents 2.6 percent of the adult population.

– National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)



56 percent of those who’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder have experienced substance abuse issues, and 46 percent of the people in this group have been addicted to alcohol.

– American Journal of Managed Care



Four million American adults have co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders, and among this group less than 50 percent have ever received treatment for either of these conditions.

– Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)


Integrated Treatment for Dual Diagnosis with Bipolar Disorder

When either substance abuse or bipolar disorder has been diagnosed, there are established treatment methods available that have been shown to produce positive results.

But treating each in isolation will not work when a dual diagnosis has been made. In these circumstances a blended approach is required that delivers customized treatment services appropriate for a person coping with two life-altering conditions at the same time.

Integrated treatment for a dual diagnosis has become the industry standard, much to the benefit of those forced to deal with both mental illness and substance abuse on a daily basis. When bipolar disorder is the unwelcome companion of chemical dependency the core addiction treatment team will be expanded to include psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health specialists with expertise to share.

When co-occurring disorders are present rehab becomes a more complex but carefully coordinated process. Each member of the patient’s healing team will consult with the others to make sure no aspect of the dual diagnosis is overlooked or only partially addressed.

If you receive a dual diagnosis it means you don’t have mental illness or a substance abuse problem—instead you have both, and to recover you’ll require a thoroughly integrated treatment regimen that offers comprehensive assistance in a well-structured package.

Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders at FootPrints BHC

FootPrints BHC’s holistic treatment methods are exceptionally well-suited to the treatment of a dual diagnosis.

We’ll introduce you to mind-body healing practices specifically designed to restore your emotional equilibrium and restructure your brain chemistry to promote calm reactions and a peaceful mindset. This makes them a superb antidote to the unpleasant side effects of bipolar disorder and substance abuse.

Your treatment regimen for bipolar disorder will likely include medication, since there are several types that have proven effective against its symptoms. These medications can help stabilize your moods and give you relief from the emotional pain of your struggles. But medication is only a temporary solution, while methods for transforming your responses to stress, hardship and disappointment will leave you far better equipped to manage your mental health as you move forward in recovery.

When you undergo integrated treatment for a dual diagnosis with us your substance abuse issues will never be neglected. Throughout your time in residence you’ll be immersed in an environment where overcoming addiction is a final and ultimate goal. You’ll learn much about your bipolar disorder, what it means and how you can manage it. But your substance abuse remains a serious threat and will be treated as such, aggressively and without compromise.

At FootPrints BHC no aspect of your dual diagnosis will be allowed to define you. Each therapy session, group meeting, classroom experience, holistic healing program and individualized activity you co-create with your counselors will emphasize the special challenges you face as a person with both chemical dependency and bipolar disorder.

As you heal we help you prepare for a better life, which makes our dual diagnosis program a gift that keeps on giving.

From Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse to Recovery

Completing a journey across the sea of addiction to a future free of drugs and alcohol requires enormous resolve and willpower. To succeed you must row on and on against strong tides and powerful winds. When the sharks of bipolar disorder are circling the trip will seem even more daunting, which may make the temptation to give up and turn back difficult to resist.

But a dual diagnosis of chemical dependency and bipolar disorder should not mean the end of your dreams. At FootPrints BHC we won’t offer you easy answers, because there are none. But we will offer you answers, and we will work closely with you as you incorporate them into your life and watch them work their magic.

The seas of recovery are rough but if you open your eyes you’ll see the shoreline of sobriety and good mental health is always within view. With our help you can finish your journey to safety and freedom, and with your continued embrace of better living you can remain there for as long as you would like.




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