Adult and Adolescent Mental Health Blog

The team at Fifth Avenue Psychiatry aims to help both adults and adolescents with substance abuse and mental health issues.

Bipolar Disorder Leaves Teens In Danger Of Addiction

Bipolar Disorder Leaves Teens In Danger Of Addiction

Bipolar disorder is a condition in which the sufferer experiences extreme shifts in mood and energy. A person with the disorder will go through periods of elevated and energetic moods, followed by episodes of depression and anxiety. Everyone can experience mood swings, but those with bipolar disorder have more regular and severe swings.

Types Of Bipolar Disorder

There are four different categories of bipolar disorder.

  1. Bipolar I. This is the most severe form. Those who experience at least one manic episode – an episode being symptoms that occur every day for at least a week – may have bipolar I. They also often experience depressive episodes as well.
  2. Bipolar II. A diagnosis of bipolar II comes after at least one major depressive episode and at least one episode of hypomania. Bipolar II does not see highs like bipolar I, but it is not a milder form of bipolar I; instead it is a separate condition.
  3. Cyclothymia. A milder form of bipolar disorder, this condition entails hypomanic and depressive episodes, but without meeting the full criteria for either one.
  4. Unspecified bipolar disorder. If a patient does not meet the criteria for bipolar disorder but still has periods of manic mood, he or she is said to have unspecified bipolar disorder.

The Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose, because most of its symptoms are also linked to other conditions. There are warning signs, however, and they come in two groups: signs of mania and signs of depression.

Seven Signs Of Mania

  • Overly happy. Those with bipolar disorder will often feel very energetic and “high” for long periods of time, often lasting well over a week.
  • Less sleep. As energetic as they are during these periods, sufferers of bipolar disorder can subsist on less sleep than they would otherwise need.
  • Fast talking. The sufferer of bipolar disorder has thoughts that race through his or her mind. It is often as if he or she cannot get the words out fast enough to keep up with his or her thoughts.
  • Restlessness. During a manic phase, it can be difficult for the bipolar person to stay still. With so much energy, he or she will sleep very little and always seem to be on the go.
  • Distraction. With so many racing thoughts, a bipolar person can seem easily distracted during the manic phase.
  • Overconfidence. At times, people with bipolar disorder feel like they can take over the world. They often take on more than they can handle, especially if they slip into a depressive phase.
  • Impulsivity. Bipolar people may engage in risky behavior during a manic phase. They may have promiscuous sex or gamble away too much money. They may spend large amounts of money on things they don’t need.

Seven Signs Of Depression

  • Long periods of sadness or hopelessness. These depressive periods, like the manic periods can last for a week or longer.
  • Withdrawal from friends and family. Periods of depression can lead a person to isolate him or herself, which only heightens the depression.
  • Lack of interest. Activities that were once pleasurable are now devoid of sensation for the person in a depressive phase.
  • Change in appetite. It is common during depression to break out of normal eating habits.
  • Fatigue. A smothering lack of energy afflicts many who enter a depressive phase. Just as they were restless and active in the manic phase, sleeping very little, they can now sleep too much and avoid activity.
  • Mental problems. A person with bipolar disorder in the depressive phase will often have problems concentrating and remembering things. He or she might have trouble making decisions.
  • Suicide. In the depressive phase, the sufferer may have a preoccupation with death and even contemplate suicide.

What Are The Causes Of Bipolar Disorder?

We do not know what causes bipolar disorder, but we have learned many things about it. It does tend to run in families. The chance of inheritance is around 70% for bipolar disorder. However, just because someone has family members who have it does not mean that he or she will have bipolar disorder.

There are certain gene mutations that appear to be linked to bipolar disorder, but the full complexity of the situation is still not understood. Experts also believe that environmental factors play a role.

The brains of those with bipolar disorder appear to have a smaller and lower-functioning prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain controls decision-making and problem-solving. Many people who have histories of depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder are at an increased risk for developing bipolar disorder.

Why Are Bipolar Adolescents Prone To Drug Addiction?

Bipolar teens are almost twice as likely as their peers to use drugs and alcohol when they become adults according to one study. If their bipolar disorder is left untreated, the risk is higher still. If the bipolar symptoms worsen, the risk goes up yet again. Impulsivity, depression, and a desire to self-medicate are all possible reasons young people turn to drugs in this case.

Curiously, teens diagnosed with bipolar disorder and ADHD did not see any elevated risk of drug use from the ADHD. However, teens with conduct disorder and bipolar disorder did experience an elevated risk of substance abuse.

Fortunately, treatment can greatly mitigate the risk of developing addictions later in life. When doctors and patients successfully treat and manage the bipolar disorder, the risk of addiction is still higher than in the normal population, but not nearly as high as when the disorder goes untreated.

Can Bipolar Disorder Be Cured?

Treatment for bipolar disorder is ongoing, but it can be successful. It usually involves mood-altering medications and psychotherapy. Certain lifestyle changes may be necessary and often brain stimulation therapies can help. If the mood-altering drugs begin to have an effect, it becomes important to continue taking the medicine even though it may feel as if it is not necessary.

With persistence, the right treatment can usually be of immense help to a person with bipolar disorder. Fighting this disorder is one battle in the larger fight against addiction.

Learn more about Adolescent Psychiatry here or call to schedule a consultation with our Psychiatrists.

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