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Alcoholism, Substance Abuse Among Women With Bipolar Disorder

Mental Health
Alcoholism, Substance Abuse Among Women With Bipolar Disorder

Alcoholism, Substance Abuse Among Women With Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes significant mood swings. It affects as much as two percent of the population and first manifests primarily in the late teens and early 20s. Although the severity and types of mood can vary dramatically among patients, the most common example of bipolar disorder is a cycling between periods of happiness and sadness, often at extreme levels (i.e. euphoria vs. despair). Although counseling can help patients learn how to identify their distinct moods, as well as the things that trigger each mood swing, many patients will also benefit from some sort of medication to help dampen negative symptoms and neutralize moods.

Alcoholism And Substance Abuse In Women With Bipolar DisorderIt is now pretty obvious that people who are taking prescription medications, including bipolar medications, should refrain from drinking alcohol or using recreational drugs as these substances can negatively interfere with the proper functioning of the medication. In some cases, the prescriptions and other substances can negatively interact to the point of overdose or death.

The Importance Of Identifying Signs Of Substance Abuse In Bipolar Patients

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the disease, some bipolar patients are unable to refrain from using alcohol or drugs even when they are taking prescription medication for their illness. In fact, roughly half of all patients with some form of bipolar disorder also have a drug or alcohol problem. Thus, when treating a patient who has bipolar disorder, mental health professionals must be vigilant in identifying signs of substance abuse or alcoholism as the two illnesses tend to go hand in hand.

Scientists have yet to discover a definitive explanation for the high incidence of substance abuse among bipolar patients. In fact, the real explanation likely entails a combination of factors. For instance, genetics may play a pivotal role — a family history of substance abuse plus bipolar disorder increases a person’s risk of having both diseases. Further, bipolar disorder can be a tough illness to treat. Although certain medications have been shown to be successful in alleviating certain bipolar symptoms in many patients, there is currently no cure for the disease and no one magic medication that renders all patients symptom free. As such, many patients use drugs and alcohol as a way to escape the symptoms of or fallout from the disease. This phenomenon is known as “self-medicating” and is often found in patients with the more debilitating mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder.

It turns out that doctors must be especially vigilant when it comes to identifying substance abuse in female bipolar patients. Studies show that females suffering from bipolar disorder are several times more likely to abuse alcohol than men with bipolar disorder.  Although men with bipolar disorder also have a higher incidence of alcoholism than men without bipolar disorder, the rate is nowhere near as high as with women.

Factors For Bipolar Disorder

While it could certainly be true that bipolar patients have a higher predisposition to addiction than non-patients, both family history and the fact that bipolar patients tend to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol is more likely the culprit behind such a high rate of alcoholism. Researchers at UCLA conducted a study  of roughly two hundred and fifty bipolar patients who were being treated at UCLA on an outpatient basis. The results of the survey showed that the males with alcohol problems were more likely to have a history of alcoholism in their families than males without such alcohol problems.

However, female participants with alcohol problems did not report similar rates of family alcohol problems. Instead, these patients reported co-occurring issues with anxiety and depression. Thus, researchers hypothesized that women bipolar patients were more likely to self-medicate than their male counterparts. Unfortunately, research also suggests that women are less likely to seek help for drinking problems than men. This puts female bipolar patients at high risk not only for alcoholism, but for untreated alcoholism.

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