In an attempt to regulate these changes in mood and energy, individuals with bipolar disorder may abuse drugs or alcohol. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, up to 70 percent of people who meet the criteria for bipolar disorder also have a history of substance abuse — a percentage that far exceeds the general population. Substance abuse affects the outcomes of bipolar disorder in several ways:
- Intensification of symptoms (mood swings, poor judgment, impulsivity, hostility, and irritability)
- Longer episodes of emotional instability
- Increased number of suicide attempts
- Diminished quality of life
Treating bipolar disorder and substance abuse can be complex, requiring intensive attention to the symptoms of mental illness as well as the behaviors associated with addiction. The results of treatment for individuals with dual diagnoses, or a mental illness co-occurring with a substance use disorder, are generally much better if both conditions are treated at the same time, within the same program. In order to provide the most effective care, staff should be cross-trained in mental health care and substance abuse treatment.