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How does substance abuse affect bipolar disorder?

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If substance abuse is not treated in an individual with bipolar disorder, mood swings between mania and depression are hard to manage, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is difficult, and medications used to treat the mental illness are rendered less effective, according to WebMD. Addiction relapses worsen the bipolar disorder.

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When the mental illness is not treated in individuals suffering from both bipolar disorder and substance abuse, known as a dual diagnosis, there is greater susceptibility to a resumption of the addictive behaviors, reports WebMD. Studies show that approximately 60 percent of individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder have substance abuse problems, with bipolar women experiencing an alcoholism rate seven times that of the general population. Ideally, detoxification from substances occurs simultaneous with identification and treatment of the bipolar disorder to ensure that the emotional difficulties experienced during detoxification do not trigger a return to addictive substances.

Studies with rats indicate there may be anomalies in the brains of substance abusers that predispose them to mood alter with drugs or alcohol in order to feel normal, explains WebMD. These brain differences may indicate the underlying mental illness. Bipolar disorder manifests in cycles of mania, in which the individual exhibits extreme elation, impulsivity, racing thoughts, irritability and distractibility, followed by cycles of depressive states in which thoughts of hopelessness and suicide are common.

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