Causes, Signs, & Effects of Bipolar Disorder

Are you concerned that you or a loved one may be struggling with bipolar disorder? Learn about the causes, signs, and effects to identify whether professional treatment may be necessary.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn about bipolar disorder

Bipolar I disorder is a form of bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression. Those who have been diagnosed with bipolar I disorder have had depressive episodes as well as at least one manic episode during their lives. People with bipolar I disorder experience symptoms such as mood changes that range from depression to anger to euphoria.

It might seem startling to witness a loved one experiencing an episode of mania or depression, as symptoms linked to these episodes can be difficult for someone who does know have this condition to understand. The symptoms of bipolar I can be worsened if substance abuse is occurring. However, regardless of how serious these symptoms might be at their worst, there is effective treatment available to help the individual who is personally impacted, as well as his or her family, to reclaim normal functioning and learn how to handle symptoms. Countless individuals who obtain treatment for bipolar I disorder find themselves living happy, healthy lives.


Bipolar disorder statistics

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), approximately 0.6% of Americans are afflicted with bipolar I disorder. This disorder impacts men a bit more than it does women, with a ratio of 1.1 men for every one woman who is diagnosed with this condition.

Many individuals are able to recover from bipolar I when the appropriate treatment is supplied and enough time and support are provided to obtain proper coping skills. However, nearly 30% of individuals with bipolar I have serious impairment in work functioning.

Unfortunately, the risk of suicide in those who have bipolar I disorder is 15 times greater than that of the general population.

Causes and Risk Factors

Learn what is known about the causes of bipolar disorder

While researchers are still learning about this disorder, there are currently few known risk factors and causes of bipolar I disorder, such as:

Genetic: There are strong genetic ties to the development of bipolar I disorder. Those who have a direct relative who has been diagnosed with bipolar I or bipolar II are ten times more likely to have this condition than the rest of the population. It is believed that bipolar disorder and schizophrenia share a common genetic origin, as those who have close family members with schizophrenia are more likely to have bipolar disorder.

Environmental: An individual’s environment can play a significant role in the development of this condition, especially if that individual is genetically predisposed to bipolar I disorder. This disorder is not as common in low-income countries, as 1.4% of those in high-income countries struggle with bipolar I disorder and it only affects 0.7% of individuals in low-income countries. Those who have never been married or who are currently married have a lower risk of a bipolar I diagnosis than individuals who have been separated, divorced, or widowed. However, the APA reports that relationship status might not be a cause of bipolar I disorder, just a possible correlation.

Risk Factors:

  • Being separated, widowed, or divorced
  • Living in a more developed or higher income country
  • A family history of schizophrenia, bipolar I, or bipolar II disorder
  • Substance abuse or substance use disorders such as drug abuse or alcohol abuse may lead to an onset of symptoms when an individual has a genetic predisposition

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

Individuals who have received a diagnosis for bipolar I disorder have experienced a documented episode of full mania before or after episodes of depression or hypomania.

Manic episode: A manic episode is a period of time where an individual is experiencing a mood that is abnormally elevated, irritable, and expansive, and lasts for the majority of the day, every day, for at least one week. Manic episodes significantly impact one’s everyday life and can make daily functioning nearly impossible. Signs of mania include:

  • Beginning (and not necessarily completing) elaborate projects
  • Racing thoughts
  • Engaging in risky behavior, such as overspending, driving recklessly, acting out sexually, or abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Racing speech
  • Increased distractibility
  • Decreased need for sleep or rest
  • Agitated movements

Major Depressive Episode: Major depressive episodes severely impact everyday functioning. These episodes include a minimum of five symptoms that occur over a two-week time span. These symptoms can include the following:

  • Feelings of excessive or elaborate guilt or shame
  • Lack of interest in things that were once enjoyable
  • Sleeping too much or too little nearly every daydream
  • Weight loss or weight gain due to changes in appetite
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Loss of energy or fatigue
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Presence of depressed mood more than half of the day, nearly every day
  • Inability to make decisions


Effects of bipolar disorder

Without treatment, those who battle with bipolar disorder can go through a variety of different effects, which might include:

  • Worsening of symptoms over time
  • Impairments in thinking
  • Conflicts in business, work or school
  • Relationship or family conflicts
  • Substance abuse
  • Struggles finding and keeping gainful employment
  • Self-harming behaviors, suicidal thoughts, or suicide attempts
  • Financial difficulties due to manic spending, previous dangerous behaviors, or job loss

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bipolar disorder and co-occurring disorders

Those who are diagnosed with bipolar I disorder often have co-occurring disorders. Substance use disorders are one common struggle amongst those with bipolar I because the significant symptoms of this disorder often cause individuals who are depressed to attempt to self-medicate their uncomfortable feelings, while those who are maniac are at greater risk for experimenting with alcohol and drugs without considering the consequences.

Common co-occurring disorders with bipolar I disorder include:

  • Conduct disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder (IED)
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
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