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Bipolar disorder: Warning signs

A person with bipolar disorder will usually experience extreme mood swings from periods of mania to depression.

These high and low periods can last for several weeks or months. 

Bipolar disorder and substance abuse

Substance abuse usually complicates the diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder. Some of those people with bipolar disorder also misuse drugs or alcohol. Those who misuse substances usually have more severe or poorly controlled bipolar disorder.

Substances like alcohol and cocaine can also cloud the picture in bipolar disorder. For example, people high on cocaine can appear manic when they're not. Many people with bipolar disorder use drugs and alcohol as a way of coping with their bipolar symptoms. In turn, substance abuse may make bipolar episodes (mania and depression) more frequent or severe.

Does your teenager have bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder commonly begins to show itself in the late teens. Bipolar disorder in the teenage years is serious; it's often more severe than in adults. Adolescents with bipolar disorder are at high risk of suicide.

Unfortunately, bipolar disorder in teenagers frequently goes undiagnosed and untreated. This is partly because, while symptoms may begin in adolescence, they often don't meet the full criteria for bipolar disorder.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder in teens may be unusual -- not a straightforward ’manic depression’. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ( ADHD), anxiety disorders and substance abuse are often also present, confusing the picture.

Some symptoms that suggest a teenager could have bipolar disorder are:

  • Anger and aggression
  • Rebelliousness
  • Easy tearfulness, frequent sadness
  • Irritation
  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Moodiness
  • Confusion and inattention

Other potential symptoms include feeling trapped, overeating, excessive worry and anxiety.

It's important to remember that these symptoms can occur in many healthy teenagers and adults. The time to worry is when they form a pattern over time, interfering with daily life. Children with symptoms that suggest bipolar disorder should be seen by a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Preventing bipolar disorder

While bipolar disorder cannot be prevented, it's important to be aware of early warning signs of an impending episode of bipolar depression or bipolar mania. Early recognition of bipolar warning signs, as well as seeing your doctor regularly, can allow you to monitor your mood and medication and keep illness from escalating.

Can bipolar disorder be cured?

There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but through behaviour therapy and the right combination of mood stabilisers and other bipolar medicines, most people with bipolar disorder can live normal, productive lives. That said, bipolar disorder is a lifelong mental illness that carries a great risk of recurrent episodes. Being compliant with taking prescribed medicines and keeping doctor's appointments is crucial for self-managing bipolar disorder and preventing serious episodes.

In addition, there are support groups available for patients and their family members to help them talk openly and learn how to support someone with bipolar disorder. Ongoing encouragement and support are needed after a person starts treatment. In fact, there is research showing that the availability of social support systems increases the chances of employment in those with bipolar disorder compared with those patients without support.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 10, 2014

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