Self Medicating Manic Depression

Manic depression, commonly referred to as bipolar disorder, is a complex mental health disorder that causes extreme and unpredictable shifts in mood. These mood swings can be so difficult to manage and to live with that individuals suffering from the disorder may find themselves impaired, unable to keep a job or function in a normal relationship. With erratic mood swings, severe fluctuations in energy, and unpredictable behavior, living with this mood disorder can be a perpetual struggle.

Self medicating manic depression with drugs or alcohol is a very common practice among individuals with the mental health condition. Often, the treatment they receive, usually a combination of medication and psychotherapy, is not sufficient in quieting the torrents that accompany bipolar disorder. Because of the difficulty of the symptoms, many turn to alcohol or drugs to help soften the often-debilitating daily effects of manic depression.

What is Manic Depression?

Manic depression is under the umbrella of major affective disorders, or mood disorders. As a serious and complex mental health disorder, manic depression can be accompanied by highly disruptive behaviors and emotional states. Approximately five million U.S. adults, or 2.8% of the population, struggle with manic depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The disorder effects about the same number of males as females, which is a departure from the statistics of those who suffer from major depressive disorder who are predominately female.

There are different types of manic depression, including:

  • Bipolar I disorder. This involves periods of extreme mood shifts between mania and depression. This is the most prevalent type of bipolar disorder.
  • Bipolar II disorder. This involves periods of milder mania that alternate with deep depression.
  • Cyclothymic disorder. This involves a milder version of both the mania and depressive alternating mood states.
  • Mixed features. This involves simultaneously experiencing both the mania and deep depression.

The cause of this complicated mental disorder remains a mystery, although there is evidence that dysregulation of brain chemistry and functioning, as well as a genetic component, are both involved.

Signs of Manic Depression

Manic depression is usually diagnosed during the teen or young adult years. Because the symptoms are usually not subtle, it becomes clear that there is a problem when these signs appear:

Depressive episodes

  • Sudden change of appetite, resulting in weight loss or weight gain
  • Decreased energy level, fatigue
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • General loss of interest in the activities once enjoyed
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of shame and guilt
  • Sad or empty moods
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

Manic episodes

  • Rapid talking
  • Grandiose thoughts or beliefs
  • Extreme euphoria
  • Hypersexuality
  • Increased energy
  • Poor judgment and impulsive behaviors
  • Reduced sleep
  • Extreme irritability
  • Racing thoughts
  • Inappropriate behaviors in social settings

Self Medicating Manic Depression with Drugs or Alcohol

As with other mental health disorders, individuals may turn to the comfort of alcohol or drugs to soften the symptoms of manic depression. Self medicating manic depression with drugs or alcohol is highly common, but always complicates the treatment picture by creating a dual diagnosis, or the existence of both the mental health disorder with a co-existing substance use disorder.

Alcohol is the most common substance used by individuals suffering from manic depression. There is a high prevalence of this particular disorder, as alcohol is inexpensive and readily available, as well as provides the desired effect. According to statistics reported by the American Journal of Managed Care, about 56% of individuals with manic depression also have experienced a co-occurring addiction. Of these, approximately 46% used alcohol and 41% used drugs to help relieve their symptoms.

Treating a Dual Diagnosis of Manic Depression and Addiction

For those with bipolar disorder, what may have started out as an attempt to self-medicate can rapidly evolve into an addiction. When this occurs, it is important that the individual is treated for both the mental illness and the co-occurring substance use disorder. This necessitates a specialized treatment program that is trained to treat dual diagnoses.

A dual diagnosis treatment program will have a psychiatrist on staff in addition to the addiction specialists, physician, and various clinicians. One a detailed psychological evaluation is completed, including an interview, mental health and medical history reviewed, lab work, and various assessments conducted, the intake representative will design a treatment plan.

Treatment will begin with a medical detox, which allows time for the substance of abuse to be safely eliminated from the body. During the detoxification period, close attention will be paid to both physical withdrawal symptoms and psychological disturbances that may arise. Appropriate medical interventions provided by the trained detox staff will help ease these withdrawal symptoms.

The treatment portion of the integrated program will involve:

  • Individual therapy sessions
  • Group therapy sessions
  • Medication management
  • Family therapy
  • Addiction education
  • Relapse prevention
  • Recovery group participation
  • Adjunctive therapies, such as biofeedback or EMDR
  • Experiential activities, such as yoga, meditation, guided imagery, massage therapy, acupuncture, art and music therapy, equine therapy

Treatment professionals face particular challenges with a bipolar disorder dual diagnosis. The features of the mental illness make it more difficult to treat, with some clients’ symptomology will interfere with the treatment plans, no matter how tailored they are to this particular combination of disorders. For this reason, it is helpful to locate a dual diagnosis treatment program that specializes in bipolar disorder as the mental health disorder component. These professionals will be more equipped to manage the difficulties that might arise in treatment.

Managing Bipolar Disorder Symptoms

Following treatment, the individual should adhere to a typical aftercare plan for addicts, including ongoing therapy sessions, medication review and management, participation in a 12-step or non 12-step recovery program, and consider sober living arrangements for a few months following treatment.

The Treatment Specialist Provides Helpful Information about Manic Depression

The Treatment Specialist is a leading online provider of important information about treating mental health and dual diagnosis conditions. If you want more information regarding self medicating manic depression with drugs or alcohol, or have questions about treatment for the dual diagnosis, please call to speak with a Treatment Specialist at (866) 644-7911.

About the Author

The Treatment Specialist

The Treatment Specialist offers mental health information and treatment resources for adults, teens, and families. If you or your loved one is suffering and is in need of help, you’re not alone, call to receive guidance and support at 866-644-7911.

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