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Bipolar disorder includes a variety of mood disorders involving periods of depression and periods of mania, or intense excitement or high energy, usually in a cycling pattern. There are several types of bipolar disorder. Though they share characteristics, they require slightly different approaches to treatment.
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People who struggle with bipolar disorder are at a great risk of developing substance abuse problems, often as a method of self-medicating their intense changes in mood. It is important to diagnose bipolar disorder as early as possible in order to treat or prevent substance abuse and other problems associated with mental health disorders.Generally, bipolar disorder is diagnosed using the following process:
Many people with undiagnosed bipolar disorder may end up in the hospital during a manic episode. Once the patient has stabilized, they may be sent to a psychologist for a diagnosis. The therapist will ask about symptoms the person has suffered, including how long symptoms last. In some cases, a person with bipolar disorder is initially misdiagnosed with depression or anxiety, which are common mood disorders, and begins to receive treatment for those issues. If treatment does not work or it triggers a manic episode, then the therapist will try a different approach.
A physician will perform a thorough physical exam, including bloodwork and potentially brain scans. This helps to rule out other causes of bipolar symptoms, such as hormonal conditions, tumors, or toxins. For example, underactive or overactive thyroid conditions may produce symptoms similar to bipolar disorder. Physical conditions require different treatment than mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, so it is important to rule out physical issues.
Bipolar & Substance Abuse
Once underlying conditions and other mental health conditions have been ruled out, the therapist will use scales or tests, including information in the DSM-5, to determine what type of bipolar disorder is present.
Symptoms of mania include:
Symptoms of depression in bipolar disorder include:
How frequently these symptoms occur, and how intensely they are experienced will help to determine the type of bipolar disorder that is present.
In order to properly track mood shifts, the therapist may ask their client to journal or use a mood tracking app. This can illuminate how often mood cycles and if the cycling may be related to a different mental health condition. It also helps the therapist to further refine the diagnosis, identifying the specific type of bipolar disorder the individual has.