Substance abuse can lead to chemical imbalances in the brain that may cause symptoms similar to bipolar disorder. These symptoms include shifts between manic and depressive episodes that occur within a month of substance abuse or intoxication.
Depressive episodes are characterized by sadness, hopelessness, and disinterest in daily life, while manic episodes are characterized by surges of energy, excitement, and a lack of control.
Co-occurring Disorders versus Substance-Induced Mental Health Disorders
Among drug users, symptoms of bipolar disorder may exist either independently or as a result of substance abuse. When a drug user suffers from bipolar-disorder independently of his addiction, he has a co-occurring disorder.
However, when bipolar disorder is brought on solely by substance abuse, the user suffers from substance-induced bipolar disorder. A co-occurring disorder requires aggressive treatment for both addiction and bipolar disorder, because even if the substance abuse problem is addressed, the mental illness will persist if it is not specifically treated.
However, unlike a co-occurring disorder, the symptoms of substance-induced bipolar disorder usually fade within a month or more of the cessation of substance abuse.
Diagnosis of Substance-Induced Bipolar Disorder
When a drug user with a history of depressive episodes demonstrates one or more manic episodes, he may be diagnosed with substance-induced bipolar disorder. However, the diagnosis of substance-induced bipolar disorder is considered provisional and often requires frequent reevaluation.
One difficulty in identifying substance-induced bipolar disorder is that certain drug abuse habits can mimic bipolar disorder. Methamphetamine binges followed by alcohol binges may create what appear to be a series of consecutive manic and depressive episodes.
Reevaluation of symptoms is also necessary because people who suffer from a substance-induced mental disorder often suffer from a co-occurring disorder, as well. This means some mental health symptoms will persist even after the patient stops using drugs. The discovery of a mental health problem independent of substance abuse would alter the course of treatment.
Effects of Substance-Induced Bipolar Disorder on Daily Life
Many people who suffer from bipolar disorder tend to spend more time in the depressive phase than the manic phase. Depressive episodes may alter a person’s energy levels, ability to concentrate, or sleeping habits. During depressive episodes, a person may have difficulty completing daily tasks such as housework or school work and may feel compelled to cancel social engagements.
Manic episodes may cause a person to experience an inflated sense of self-esteem and a decreased need for sleep. Manic episodes can also lead to inattentiveness due to racing thoughts and reckless behavior in search of pleasure. High quality substance abuse treatment can help alleviate the symptoms of substance-induced bipolar disorder.