Many people who struggle with bipolar disorder may also have another mental health issue, such as a substance abuse disorder. Having two mental health issues together means that person has “co-occurring disorders.” It is also known as having a Dual Diagnosis. Being dually diagnosed can be especially difficult for people because the two mental health issues negatively affect each other.

Bipolar Disorder, Co-occurring Disorders and Self-Medication

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Sometimes a person with bipolar disorder will use alcohol, tobacco or illegal substances to self-medicate against the severe mood swings of the disease. The Mayo Clinic estimates that as many as half of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder may also deal with a substance addiction. Unfortunately, these co-occurring disorders are not always identified and properly diagnosed. This lack of proper diagnosis increases the likelihood that the unidentified addiction will negatively affect the person’s bipolar disorder treatment. Specifically, the substance addiction could impair the person’s judgment, making him less likely to follow the suggested treatment plan for the bipolar disorder. It’s therefore essential that medical professionals perform a full mental health screening to identify and treat any issues potentially occurring alongside the person’s bipolar disorder.

Once a person is diagnosed with the co-occurring disorders of bipolar disorder and another mental health issue, such as a substance addiction, his medical professional will work with him to create a treatment plan that addresses and seeks to manage both aspects of the co-occurring disorders. This treatment plan usually takes the following course:

  1. The person enrolls in a substance abuse rehabilitation program. Depending on the severity of the addiction, this program can range from a flexible outpatient program to an inpatient rehabilitation center. In this stage of the integrated treatment, the person can begin detoxifying his body of the harmful substance. As the National Alliance on Mental Illness explains, this stage of recovery is critically important, as treatments for bipolar disorder tend to have more success when the patient is sober.
  2. Once the person has completed the initial detoxification process, he can begin addressing and managing the effects of bipolar disorder. This is commonly achieved through therapy, where the person regularly meets with a mental healthcare professional. Initially, the mental healthcare professional will help the person identify the highs and lows of his bipolar disorder, how they occur, and what their effects are. They will then begin planning strategies to manage the mood fluctuations in the future, and will develop long-term goals for keeping the disorder under control. Management of the disease could include prescription medication, continued therapy sessions, frequent monitoring of the mood fluctuations or some combination of these options.
  3. Alongside developing strategies for managing bipolar disorder, the mental healthcare professional will also work with the person to achieve long-term sobriety from the substance addiction. This step often involves finding supportive friends and family members who can encourage the person to stay sober, and who can offer assistance in the event of a relapse. It’s also important for the person to analyze his habits, addiction triggers and negative influences. With this analysis, the person can make a plan to avoid the former situations that led to the substance use in the first place.

Co-occurring disorders are fairly common for people with bipolar disorder. When left untreated, they can create serious social, psychological, and physical problems for the person suffering from them. If treated carefully, however, a person with co-occurring disorders has every chance to lead a happy and healthy life free from the negative effects of mental health issues.

Seeking Assistance for a Co-Occurring Disorder

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If you or someone you care about is struggling with bipolar disorder and another mental health issue such as an addiction, please call our toll-free helpline today. Our treatment centers are among the best in the nation, and we specialize in integrated treatment. Call us to see how an integrated treatment program can help you or your loved one. 877-714-1318

Common Integrated Treatment Questions

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