What Are the Different Types of Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a challenging mental illness to have. Many people do not know what it is or understand it properly. No matter what kind of person gets diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it is essential to understand the different types of bipolar disorder, how they differ, and how to treat it.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

According to the substance abuse and mental health services administration (SAMHSA), bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that causes a change in mood ranging from extreme highs—which are referred to as mania—to extreme lows—referred to as depression. 

During a manic episode, a person with bipolar disorder may experience, among other symptoms:

  • Intense euphoria
  • Excessive energy
  • Distractibility 
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Impulsivity

During a depressive episode, a person with bipolar may experience, among other symptoms:

  • Feelings of sadness and worthlessness
  • Exhaustion
  • Changes in sleeping and eating habits (either too much or not enough)
  • Lack of interest
  • Thoughts of death and/or suicide

Bipolar disorder is something millions of adults and adolescents deal with and usually begin to show symptoms in their teens or twenties. There have been many studies on bipolar disorder, though researchers are still unsure what causes it directly. There is evidence that it can be passed down genetically but also evidence that it can be a learned disorder.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are three types of bipolar disorder. These are bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, and cyclothymic disorder—also called cyclothymia. Bipolar I disorder involves mood swings from mania lasting about 7 days to depression that can last for about 2 weeks. In some cases, manic symptoms can get so severe that the individual requires hospitalization. It is also possible to have a mixture of both depressive and manic symptoms simultaneously. 

Bipolar II disorder is similar to bipolar I disorder, except that the mania is less severe. This is referred to as hypomania, meaning manic symptoms are present but not severe enough to require hospitalization. People with bipolar II disorder experience more depressive episodes than manic ones.

The third type of bipolar is cyclothymia. This involves symptoms of mania and depression that can last up to 2 years. The symptoms are not as severe as either of the other two types.

Co-Occurring Disorders 

Bipolar disorder can come with different co-occurring disorders. This means that other mental health disorders are present alongside bipolar disorder. The most common co-occurring disorders with bipolar disorder are anxiety and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

Another common one is substance use disorder (SUD). Often, in times of mania, people engage in higher-risk behaviors, and using mind-altering substances falls into that category. In periods of depression, some people try to self-medicate the uncomfortable low feelings. What makes SUD so common in people with bipolar disorder is that, regardless of what part of the bipolar cycle they are in, substances may be involved. This can quickly become dangerous. The combination of substances and mood swings creates a toxic cocktail that can be very damaging to the individual and the people around one them.

Eating disorders are also common. In depressive episodes, people with bipolar disorder may either have an increased or decreased appetite, so different eating disorders may become a prevalent concern.

So much of bipolar disorder is about control. Co-occurring disorders often arise because individuals feel as if they cannot control their moods, so they try to control something else. That can take the form of many things such as the following:

  • Spending habits
  • Eating habits
  • Substance use habits
  • Any activity that triggers a release of dopamine

How to Treat Bipolar Disorder

There are a few different ways to treat bipolar disorder. One is medication. Medications can help tighten the parameters of how bipolar disorder operates. The best way to describe it is to imagine that the disorder is like a wavy line that goes up and down. What medication does is flatten the wave a bit so individuals do not hit such manic highs or depressive lows. 

For those wary of or not interested in medication, there is also psychotherapy (talk therapy) where a professional can help them work through extreme emotions. Individuals can also exercise regularly and keep a life chart that tracks their mood, sleep patterns, and other symptoms to find patterns or triggers. These are all excellent non-medication-based treatments for bipolar disorder. 

With bipolar disorder, it can feel like individuals have little control over themselves. They feel that their attitude is defined by whatever mood the disorder dictates at that moment. Luckily, bipolar disorder does not define anyone who has it. Everyone has more power over it than they may believe. Individuals can make changes in their lives to have the power they need to feel more in control.

Bipolar disorder is a complicated mental illness and it can take serious effort to get a handle on it. For some, this may be done with relative ease. For others, this may be more challenging. It is okay to ask for help when it comes to mental health disorders. NorthStar Transitions, located in Boulder, CO, can be the place to find that help. Our experienced staff can help you and the ones you care about navigate your difficult disorder. You want to do all that you can to live a life that is free from the chaotic nature of bipolar disorder. If you or someone you know needs treatment for substance addiction and co-occurring disorders like bipolar disorder, NorthStar is the best place to be. You can take the first steps by calling us today at (303) 558-6400 for more information.

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