Bipolar disorder has been linked to many substance abuse cases, but recent studies have shown that substance abuse is not the only common co-occurring illness. Some individuals with bipolar disorder also have some form of eating disorder they are struggling with. The most frequent co-occurring disorder appears to be what is known as binge-eating disorder, but it can also affect bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa. Because of the nature of fluctuating moods with bipolar disorder, it can be harder to differentiate a manic episode and a binge — and much more challenging to treat.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Put in the simplest terms, bipolar disorder is a mental illness in which people cycle through extreme highs, or manic phases, to extreme lows. There are several types of bipolar disorder, including a type in which the patient only experiences periods of depression. What makes this particularly challenging for people with eating disorders is that, during manic phases, they often go on binges of self-harming activity or risky behavior. Risky and self-harming behaviors would include extremes in eating (too much or too little), hence its high level of occurrence among the bipolar crowd.
What Is an Eating Disorder?
There are also several types of eating disorders. Among the most well-known is anorexia nervosa, which is when someone becomes obsessed with restricting their food intake to the point of starving themselves. Another eating disorder is bulimia nervosa, in which someone binges on food then “purges” it back out by the use of vomiting, diuretics, or laxatives.
A person may even do excessive exercise to try to work off the extra calories. Binge eating is similar to bulimia in that there are short periods of eating a large amount of food, but there is no consequential purge afterward. As a result, weight can fluctuate up and down.
How Does Bipolar Disorder Contribute to Eating Disorders?
A lack of impulse control characterizes the manic phase of bipolar disorder. If someone is a binge eater, this further complicates trying to get those impulses under control. The two disorders have much in common that makes treating them both critical to being successful in a rehabilitation program. They both have eating irregularities, and someone suffering from bipolar and bulimia disorder may not eat at scheduled times or may eat out of boredom. Because of this, they might display some weight problems.
Both disorders are characterized by acting impulsively with little regard for long-term consequences. You may even see compulsive behavior as the person cycles in and out of the extreme highs and lows. They may have opposing cycles of bulimia and anorexia, or they may have opposing cycles in a bipolar disorder of depression and mania. The more extreme the swing between opposites, the more extreme the struggles with bulimia and anorexia.
Treating Both Bipolar and Eating Disorders
This is where things can get a little tricky when you’re treating both illnesses at the same time. One class of medication normally used for eating disorders is antidepressants, but these can trigger a manic episode. Likewise, mood stabilizers can trigger a binge in eating. If someone is purging with bulimia, it affects the dosage of medications that they’re receiving. So how can you treat both illnesses at one time?
Therapy can be a benefit to people who are suffering from both mental and eating disorders. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular can help treat eating disorders. Unfortunately, bipolar disorder often requires intervention with medications to help stabilize the mood, so it is a fine balance between mood stabilization and triggering another episode of binge-eating.
Many of the medications used to stabilize mood can also cause weight gain. In those with a binge-eating disorder, they are likely already overweight, so adding to that can be an adverse effect. Those with an anorexic disorder, who might be dangerously underweight, may avoid complying with their medication regimen for fear of getting “fat.”
It is easier to diagnose someone with anorexia nervosa by looking at their emaciated condition, then subsequently look for bipolar symptoms, but eating disorders come in all sizes and are associated with obesity for binge-eaters. People with eating disorders may also suffer from chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular problems. These problems can also create depressive symptoms or depressive relapse. It’s a vicious cycle that needs professional attention to break the cycle and get back on track.
Eating disorders are serious mental and physical problems that can have devastating effects on your health in the short and long term. They can even cause death. When bipolar disorder occurs along with an eating disorder, treatment can be complicated. Medications to control one disorder may trigger the other. Here at Everlast Recovery Centers, we help people with co-occurring mental health issues as well as substance use disorders. Our Riverside, California facility offers traditional therapy for bipolar disorder, as well as alternative therapies such as equine therapy, hiking in nature, and yoga. We also serve healthy, home-cooked meals. After you complete our program, we offer aftercare services to ensure your emotional support beyond your stay and get you back on track to a healthy and happy lifestyle. Get the help you need today here at our beautiful facility. We can help you treat your bipolar disorder and live the healthy life you have been looking for. Call us today at (866) 338-6925 to get help.