Alcohol and Drugs Affect the Severity of Bipolar Disorder

The effect of drugs and alcohol on the severity of bipolar disorder has become an area of concern in recent years. UCI helped in the exploration of this issue in celebration of the First Annual Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day on Oct. 9 as a part of Mental Health Awareness Week.
According to Amy Buch, assistant director of the Health Education Center, bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a serious mental affliction that causes extreme mood swings between depression and ecstasy. These mood swings can last for days, weeks or even months.
The effects of alcohol and drugs on bipolar disorder have become a hot topic in recent years, prompting more research on the relationship between substance abuse and bipolar disorder.
‘[The relationship between substance abuse and bipolar disorder] is being looked at more and more; in fact, it is estimated that between 30 and 60 percent of people with bipolar disorder are also substance abusers,’ Buch explained.
Alcohol and drugs are often used as self-medication for people with cases of bipolar disorder. This, according to Buch, is extremely important for people with undiagnosed cases of bipolar disorder, especially those who have no knowledge of their mental health illness.
‘It is really easy for somebody who is feeling panicky or depressed to want to use drugs or alcohol to alleviate some of the symptoms,’ Buch said.
The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, in conjunction with Abbott Laboratories, held the First Annual Bipolar Disorder Day also on Oct. 9 in hopes of peaking awareness of bipolar disorder through education and detection.
According to Sophie Patel, an accounting supervisor for Abbott Laboratories, bipolar disorder affects millions of Americans.
‘Over two million Americans are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but over seven million Americans could have cases of bipolar disorder that go undiagnosed,’ Patel explained. ‘This is why awareness is so critical.’
Awareness can be extremely important for students. According to Patel, about 90 percent of the diagnosed cases experienced symptoms before the age of 20.
‘Students really need to be aware of the relationship between drug or alcohol abuse and bipolar disorder because substance abuse can actually be a symptom of bipolar disorder,’ Patel said.
Bipolar disorder is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the brain. It is this imbalance that causes mood swings that are most often associated with the disorder. When diagnosed, treatment involves medication and therapy.
‘Bipolar disorder is labeled as a psychiatric disorder that results from a biochemical imbalance that people experience,’ Buch said. ‘When people are diagnosed correctly, they can be put on prescription medication to help alleviate some of the symptoms.’
According to Buch, the stigma behind mental health illness is one of the biggest barriers to detection.
‘Because bipolar disorder is a mental illness, there is always a stigma,’ Buch said. ‘People really agonize over their need of help.’
Marianne Ross, a counseling psychologist for the UCI Counseling Center, stressed the importance of awareness and detection.
‘In this past decade, there have been such great strides made in the medication for bipolar disorder, so if detected and treated, people can regain much more balance in their lives,’ Ross explained. ‘It is a blessing that so much medication is available for the treatment of the disorder, but it all starts with detection.’
For more information on bipolar disorder and its symptoms, Buch recommends students contact the UCI Counseling Center or the Student Health Center.
‘Students who have concerns about bipolar disorder can get help at the Student Health Center or at the Counseling Center,’ Buch said. ‘Students there can get a good diagnosis and receive psychiatric help or counseling if needed.’