Bipolar disorder is a mental health problem that’s characterized by periods of depression, mania, and normal states. The disorder affects around 2.8 percent of adults in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health. It seems to affect men and women at similar rates, but it’s more common among people under 45 years old with the highest prevalence among 18 to 29-year-olds. Bipolar disorder is considered a mood disorder, which means that it’s a psychological problem that’s characterized by extreme moods that are difficult to regulate.
In many cases, mood disorders involve severe emotional symptoms that are more intense or prolonged than a normal emotional range. Major depression also falls under the category of mood disorders, and depressive symptoms are closely related to bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme shifts from a period of mania to severe depression.
Manic periods can include impulsive behavior, insomnia, euphoria, extreme self-confidence, racing thoughts, anxiety, hyper-productivity, and rash decision making. Some people only rarely experience manic stages, but they can be severe. Extreme mania can manifest in delusional thinking. For instance, you might think there is some imaginary enemy coming that only you know about. You may also empty your bank account on lavish purchases or plan expensive trips.
Depressive phases of bipolar disorder can involve fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, the inability to feel pleasure, despair, and increased thoughts of death. Depressive phases are often more common and longer-lasting than manic phases, but they can be just as debilitating and dangerous.
But where does bipolar disorder come from, and can you get it through your genes? Learn more about bipolar disorder and what it means if someone in your family has it.
Do Genes Determine Mental Health?
Your genes determine a lot about how your brain and body work. Everything from your small idiosyncrasies to the disease you develop as you age can be influenced by your genes. For a long time, it was assumed that mental health issues were largely caused by environmental influences. However, researchers have come to learn that your genes can influence your mental health just as much as they influence your physical health. Mental health issues can be determined by genetic, environmental, and developmental causes.
However, it can be difficult to pinpoint any one definitive cause, even in an individual person. More likely, psychological disorders are caused by some combination of all three of these factors. Still, genetics may be the most influential of the three. For instance, in alcohol use disorders, studies show that your genes make up as much as half of your risk factors for developing the disorder.
How Much Do Genes Affect Bipolar Disorder?
When determining the likelihood that a person’s genes have an influence on a specific physical or psychological problem, researchers study twins and adopted children. These two groups can help minimize other variables like environmental and developmental factors. Identical twins have very similar genes, while paternal twins can be as genetically distinct as any siblings. If one identical twin has the disorder, the other should also develop it if there is a strong genetic link. Adoption studies can also help to rule out developmental factors. If a birth parent of a child that has the disorder and the child gets it, even though they were raised in a different home, it points to a genetic influence.
Studies can also indicate whether a disease or disorder relies on a single gene or multiple genes. No single gene has been discovered in bipolar disorder studies, and it’s likely that bipolar disorder is caused by polygenic contributions, which means that it’s caused by many small changes in a person’s genes. However, studies do suggest a “major genetic contribution” to your risk of developing bipolar disorder.
Is Bipolar Disorder Inevitable?
If someone in your family has bipolar disorder, it could mean that you have a greater risk of experiencing the disorder yourself. You’re most likely to have a genetic link if an immediate family member has the disorder like your parents, siblings, or children. However, just because a family member has the disorder doesn’t mean you have it or that you’ll ever get it. Still, if you do have someone in your family with the disorder, it does mean you have a significant genetic risk factor. So, what can you do if you’re at risk?
Unfortunately, there is no known way that we know can definitively prevent bipolar disorder. It may come on randomly, or it can be triggered by stress or trauma in your life. That being said, following good mental health practices like getting enough sleep, managing stress, and getting plenty of exercise can help to maintain general mental wellness. Ultimately, if you know that a family member has bipolar disorder, it can help you be more vigilant of the disease in yourself. If you start to notice the symptoms, you can seek treatment as early as possible to help avoid severe consequences. Catching a mental health issue early can also mean treating it when it’s more manageable.
What Causes Bipolar Disorder?
If you’ve ever seen bipolar disorder portrayed on television or in movies and have been diagnosed with the condition, you know the portrayal is often inaccurate. You also might have heard friends say to one another to “stop acting so bipolar” if they go from happy to angry or sad in an instant. While mood swings are a part of bipolar disorder, this is only a small fraction of it. Bipolar disorder can be a severe condition that cripples a person and understanding it can help people know whether or not they have it. You might wonder – is bipolar hereditary? Is bipolar genetic? What causes bipolar disorder?
Unfortunately, despite experts’ research on the topic, the cause of bipolar disorder is still unknown. However, someone with bipolar genetics could be a leading factor in whether you are diagnosed with it later in life. Biological differences are one cause – those with bipolar disorder have physical changes in their brain. However, the significance of these changes has yet to determine how experts can pinpoint the cause.
As mentioned above, genetics also play a role. The bipolar disorder genetic risk is more common in those with a first-degree relative, like a parent or sibling diagnosed with the condition. However, researchers are still trying to determine which genes are responsible for causing bipolar disorder.
Many people ask if manic depression is hereditary. Well, manic depression is another term for bipolar disorder, so the answer is yes. However, another cause of bipolar disorder is drug and alcohol abuse. Bipolar disorder affects a significant portion of the population, and there are numerous connections between alcohol, drug abuse, and bipolar disorder. Substance use disorders (SUDs) and bipolar disorder can have severe consequences.
Some factors that increase the chances of developing bipolar disorder or triggering someone’s first psychotic episode include excessive drug and alcohol abuse, an immediate family member with the condition, or periods of high stress or a traumatic experience. Compared to the general population, individuals with bipolar disorder have higher odds of developing a substance use disorder. Unfortunately, it’s still unknown why the condition makes people more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs.
Unfortunately, frequent drug and alcohol consumption will likely lead to physical changes in the brain. The most apparent change is what happens to the reward system, which makes drugs more pleasurable than they should be and triggers drug-seeking behavior, which can lead to someone experiencing manic or depressive episodes. When someone is in a manic phase, they will abuse stimulants like cocaine or meth to prolong this high-energy state. On the contrary, when they’re in a depressive state, they’ll abuse depressants to ease their feelings of hopelessness.
However, in some cases, it’s possible to say that the substances abused led to bipolar disorder. While substance abuse can trigger various mental health conditions, such as depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety, bipolar disorder can also be caused by substance abuse. Drug-induced bipolar disorder refers to someone that was previously healthy but developed the condition after abusing substances.
Bipolar disorder and drug addiction can lead to a vicious cycle. You use drugs to self-medicate your symptoms, but the drugs or alcohol often exacerbate symptoms. Or drug use can cause bipolar disorder. This cycle is common in the recovery community and a primary reason why they began abusing in the first place. Co-occurring bipolar disorder and substance abuse is challenging and requires special attention. The best way to treat these two conditions is through dual diagnosis treatment, which addresses both conditions simultaneously. Rehab centers equipped to handle this boast staff trained in mental health care and substance abuse treatment.
Why Seek Treatment?
If bipolar disorder is left unchecked, it can have serious consequences. It can affect most parts of your life, including your health, relationships, finances, and your ability to perform in school or at work. It can affect your physical health in multiple ways. It can hinder your ability to get enough sleep. Plus, depression is linked to serious medical problems like heart disease. Bipolar disorder also increases your risk of suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health problems that might be related to bipolar disorder, there is help available. Though mental health issues can be complicated, they are typically treatable with the right care. Bipolar disorder can be treated with medications and psychotherapeutic options. Learn more about bipolar disorder and how it can be treated to take your first steps toward better mental health today.