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Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that is characterized by extreme mood swings that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. Around 2.6 percent of the entire population in the United States is diagnosed with this disorder, which equates to about 600,000 people, according to data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Of that number, as many as 83 percent of cases could be considered severe. The average age for the onset of this disorder is 25, although it can also appear in adolescents. In rare cases, children may show the early symptoms of bipolar disorder.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder was previously known as manic-depressive disorder, demonstrating the swings in mood and energy levels a person with this illness experiences. The condition often becomes worse without treatment, but there are valid methods of addressing the disorder today that won’t “cure” the illness but will help people who are diagnosed effectively manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder and experience a higher quality of life overall.

There are two distinct phases of bipolar disorder:

  • Manic phase, characterized by periods of elation and high energy
  • Depressive phase, which includes a hopeless feeling and loss of interest in activities

Each of these phases can impact nearly aspect of a person’s life, from their ability to perform at their jobs to their quality of sleep, judgment and focus.

Symptoms of a Bipolar Disorder

The symptoms of bipolar disorder are quite different, depending on the current cycle the individual is experiencing. People in the manic phase might notice the following:

  • Extreme happiness or euphoria
  • Very high energy levels, hyperactivity
  • Racing thoughts, easily distracted
  • Needing less sleep than normal
  • Increased agitation, irritability
  • Unrealistic expectations of potential accomplishments

In extreme cases, manic episodes may include detachment from reality, delusions or hallucinations. These symptoms often cause bipolar disorder to be mistaken for schizophrenia. However, the disorders are very distinct and different.

People in the depressive phase of bipolar disorder might exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness and emptiness
  • Loss of interest and enjoyment in hobbies, activities and people
  • Changes in sleep patterns – difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Difficulty making decisions, even minor ones
  • Significant weight fluctuations
  • Trouble thinking clearly or concentrating
  • Suicidal ideations, thoughts or actions

Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder

Although it is not known what causes bipolar disorder, specific factors could trigger an initial episode:

  • History of bipolar disorder in a parent or sibling
  • Substance abuse
  • Highly stressful circumstances, such as the death of a loved one, divorce or assault
  • subtle differences in the size of some brain structures

Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse

There is a compelling connection between bipolar disorder and substance abuse. As many as 30 to 50 percent of people who are diagnosed with the mental illness will also develop a substance abuse disorder at some point in their lives, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). People struggling with bipolar disorder may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of managing difficult symptoms, which may seem to work in the beginning. However, ongoing substance use can lead to abuse and addiction, which results in a co-occurring disorder and complicates treatment of both conditions.

Treatment Options

People with a co-occurring disorder require treatment for both the mental illness and the addiction simultaneously to ensure it is effective. The Center for Professional Recovery specializes in treating co-occurring disorders in professionals with high-pressure careers in industries like health, law and aviation. You will work alongside your peers as you explore the issues surrounding your co-occurring disorder and partner with our team of experts to devise the right treatment plan for you. To get the help you need today, contact the Center for Professional Recovery at 866.298.0056.

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