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Effects of Alcohol on Bipolar Disorder

by
author image Alia Butler
Alia Butler holds a Master of Social Work from Washington University, St. Louis, concentrating in mental health, and a Master of Arts in social-organizational psychology from Columbia University. Currently, Butler is a freelance writer, penning articles focusing on mental health, healthy living and issues surrounding work-life balance. She is the principle/owner of ALIA Living, LLC, providing residential interior design services, professional organizing and life coaching.
Effects of Alcohol on Bipolar Disorder
Three young women are drinking wine. Photo Credit Christopher Robbins/Photodisc/Getty Images

Overview

Alcohol use is generally not recommended for patients with bipolar disorder due to its negative effects. Problems with alcohol such as alcohol abuse or dependence have been found to often co-exist in people who have bipolar disorder, notes the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, or NIAAA. The reason for the relationship is not fully understood, but it’s believed that for some people alcohol is consumed to manage their bipolar symptoms while for others alcoholism triggers the bipolar disorder.

Trigger

Alcohol use can trigger the onset of episodes of depression in people with bipolar disorder, notes HelpGuide.org. Drinking alcohol even in recreational amounts can be risky for a person with bipolar disorder because the chances that a depressive episode will be induced increases.

Cover-Up

Alcohol use can cause bipolar disorder to remain undiagnosed and therefore untreated. MayoClinic.com reports that the symptoms of bipolar disorder have been known to be masked by alcoholism. Therefore, unless a person with alcoholism curbs his alcoholic intake, which could be fueled by his untreated symptoms of bipolar disorder, it is unlikely that the bipolar disorder symptoms will ever be uncovered or treated.

Severe Symptoms

When a person with bipolar disorder drinks alcohol, it can cause her symptoms to become more severe. The NIAAA reports the findings of a research study conducted by Susan Sonne and colleagues in 1994 that compared the severity of symptoms between people with bipolar disorder who drank alcohol and those who did not; they found that those who drank were more likely to be hospitalized, experience an earlier onset of bipolar disorder, experience more rapid cycling and have more mixed forms of mania.

Therefore, drinking alcohol for a person has bipolar disorder is not generally recommended because anything that could make a person’s symptoms worse should be avoided.

Harder to Treat

When a person has bipolar disorder and uses alcohol, the combination can make it harder to treat the disorder. The NIAAA notes that alcoholism can make the symptoms of bipolar disorder treatment-resistant and people who experience this will likely experience much slower recovery from their bipolar disorder.

When a person has an alcohol abuse or dependence problem along with bipolar disorder, he will often be labeled with a dual diagnosis. According to MayoClinic.com, treating a person with bipolar disorder and alcoholism will require the experience of mental health professionals and psychiatrists who specialize in dual diagnoses. The NIAAA reports that currently there is limited research focused on treatments that are effective for people with bipolar disorder and alcohol use problems.

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