People With Bipolar DIsorder Experience Higher Levels Of Reward Center Activation

Addiction professionals have become more aware of how psychological disorders negatively affect people’s tendencies towards addiction. Instead of being treated as separate issues, psychological issues and addiction need to be treated concurrently and are called co-occurring disorders or a dual diagnosis.

One of the most common psychological problems that addicts have to deal with is bipolar disorder. And it has been discovered that people with bipolar disorder experience higher levels of “reward center” activation that contributes to their addiction problems. This discovery can go a long way towards finding more effective ways to successfully treat people who suffer from bipolar disorder and addiction.

“Reward Center” Activation

When someone suffers from bipolar disorder it’s characterized by drastic mood swings, where they are depressed and then experience manic episodes. Bipolar disorder is sometimes associated with drug addiction and self-harm. A common disorder, it’s believed to be caused by genetic and environmental stressors that may trigger the disorder. While the connection between bipolar disorder and addiction may have been previously undiagnosed, research has discovered that people who have bipolar disorder experience greater activity in their brain where the reward center is activated, as opposed to people who don’t suffer bipolar disorder.

This correlates with why this disorder and addiction are sometimes linked together. People who suffer from bipolar disorder experience stronger feelings of pleasure when engaging in activities that result in short-term pleasure. Other signs that a person has bipolar disorder include:

  • Rapidly talking in excited manner
  • Delusions during manic episodes
  • Loss of pleasure in activities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Profound feelings of sadness

When someone experiences these feelings at the same time the result is overwhelming, and drugs or alcohol provide the short-term relief that the individual is seeking.

Combatting Bipolar Disorder And Addiction

Experts believe that bipolar disorder is a result of genetics and environment. For example, if someone grows up in a stressful environment, one might have a greater chance of becoming bipolar, as opposed to someone else who grows up in a healthier, less stressful environment. This means that people do have control over their destiny, and aren’t slaves to the genetic hand that has been dealt.

But what addiction professionals are realizing is that to properly help an addict become sober, both issues need to be treated at the same time. And the most effective approach seems to be a combination of holistic treatment, with a focus on reducing the stress in someone’s life. Stress has been named the culprit of both addiction and bipolar disorder, and ways to manage it are integral to someone combatting both issues. 

Another large part of holistically treating bipolar disorder and addiction is eating healthier and exercising, which helps reduce stress in one’s life and creating different activities that the brain can respond to rather than drugs. Statistically, over half of people who suffer from bipolar disorder are overweight and turn to food as well as drugs or alcohol to activate the rewards centers of the brain. But by eating healthier and exercising, people can slowly take control over their environment and steer themselves away from the short-term fixes that food and drugs have provided them.

Daily Management

Experts agree that while there is no cure for addiction or bipolar disorder, people still have the powers to change their lifestyles and the quality of their lives. But what it involves is daily management of their lives, to reduce stress, eat nutritious food, and to exercise, so that people can reduce the amount of stress in their lives, thus reducing the need to overeat or to feed an addiction. Change is hard, and while changes don’t happen overnight, over time daily management can lead to a healthier, sober lifestyle for someone with bipolar disorder.

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