The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance reports that 7 in 10 people with bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed at least once. It’s possible that these errors take place due to the behaviors of people with bipolar disorder. People may make an appointment when they’re at one point of the cycle, but when the appointment time comes, the storm may have passed and the person might have a completely different set of issues to deal with. It’s hard to accurately label the disorder when the symptoms seem to be changing all the time. However, it’s also possible that people with bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed because they have many other problems that manifest alongside their original mental illness. These co-occurring disorders, also known as Dual Diagnoses, are common in people with bipolar disorder, and they can make treatment just a bit more complicated.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by swings of behavior. The type of swing and the severity of the shift can separate one type of bipolar disorder from another, but in essence, all people who have this mental illness complaint are on some form of a mental rollercoaster that makes consistent and rational thought difficult to achieve. They may feel hyped up and energetic one moment, and then feel completely down in the dumps the next. It’s easy to see why drugs might be appealing, as they might seem like a reasonable way to provide a smoother, mellower life.
Addictions can also form due to the symptoms of bipolar disorder. People in a manic state often have very little impulse control, and they look for ways to increase their pleasure in the moment, no matter what that pleasure might cost in the months and years to come. In a manic state, people might take incredibly large doses of drugs or drink huge amounts of alcohol. They might binge for days, just because they feel powerful enough to handle their substances without fear of damage.
The link between addiction and bipolar disorder is incredibly strong, due to all of these factors. The Mayo Clinic reports, for example, that up to half of all people who have bipolar disorder also have alcoholism. Other studies have found links between bipolar disorder and addictions to illicit and prescription drugs. When it comes to co-occurring disorders and bipolar disorder, addiction is the most prevalent condition.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
People who have bipolar disorder can also struggle with other mental health conditions. For example, it’s not uncommon for people with bipolar disorder to also have symptoms of PTSD. In a study of the issue, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, about 24 percent of people with bipolar disorder also had PTSD, and those who had both conditions were more likely to have dealt with these kinds of traumatic events:
- Sexual abuse, either in childhood or in adulthood
- Suicide attempts
- Homicide attempts
- Accidental death of a loved one
It’s not clear which condition arrived first. It’s possible that people had PTSD in the months following the event, and the distress triggered the onset of bipolar disorder. It’s also possible that the bipolar disorder’s fluctuations in mood could lead to such a deregulation of emotional control that an inner tendency to develop PTSD was allowed to grow and flourish. It’s easy to see, however, how these two conditions could cause severe emotional distress. PTSD can cause intense flashbacks and feelings of terror, and that can be hard for someone with a wavering mood to handle. A PTSD attack could cause a shift in mood, or it could make shifts deeper and more profound.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
People with bipolar disorder may struggle with attention. During a manic episode, they may fidget and move from topic to topic at will, in a completely random manner. During a depressive episode, they may seem so withdrawn and lost that they don’t seem to be attending to the outside world at all, and they may interrupt or seem exasperated when they’re forced to deal with others in conversation. At times, these behaviors can overlap with those commonly attributed to ADHD, and sometimes, the symptoms can be so severe that people merit a diagnosis of this second disorder.
In a study of the issue, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers found that about 47 percent of adults with a diagnosis of ADHD also had symptoms of bipolar disorder, while 21 percent of those with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder also had symptoms of ADHD. Studies like this seem to suggest that the two conditions tack closely together, and the line between one and the other is a little blurred. Studies like this also show just how often one disorder or another is missed when people work to obtain a diagnosis.
While bipolar disorder is considered a mental health issue, there are times when the disorder can cause physical problems. For example, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that people with bipolar disorder are at a higher risk for:
- Migraine headaches
- Heart disease
- Thyroid disease
Some of these physical ailments may be due to the stress of living with an untreated mental illness. But some of these conditions may be blamed, in part, on the link between bipolar disorder and obesity. In one study of this link, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, about 58 percent of people with bipolar disorder were overweight, 21 percent were obese and 5 percent were very obese. It’s not quite clear why people who have bipolar disorder are at such high risk for weight issues, but a problem like this could make robust physical health hard to achieve, and this could make the underlying mental health condition harder to treat.
Treating bipolar disorder without addressing the comorbid conditions isn’t a good idea, as these problems can work like triggers that lead back to disordered thinking. A comprehensive program that provides treatments for all of the problems a person faces, all at the same time, is the best way to provide help and allow the person to move forward. This is the kind of care we provide at The Canyon. Our Dual Diagnosis program is designed to deal with all issues a person has, and this tailored approach allows people to come to a deep understanding of where they are now, and where they’d like to be in the future. If you’d like to know more, please call us.