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Almost five percent of U.S. adults will be diagnosed with bipolar disorder in their lives. This means they will experience alternating episodes of mania and depression. Bipolar is a challenging disorder. It can disrupt your everyday life and add problems to your relationships. While the average age of onset is 25, bipolar can affect anyone — from children to older adults. Men and women are impacted differently in terms of symptoms but roughly the same in sheer numbers. But why is all this happening? What are the causes of bipolar disorder? While there is no known cause, some risk factors have been identified. 


Examining the Causes of Bipolar Disorder

Family History

Research suggests that bipolar disorder can be passed down through families even when it goes undiagnosed in our elders. It’s not strictly genetic, but rather, your family contributes mightily to the environment in which you are raised. This can influence your mental and physical well-being in major ways.


Childhood Trauma & Other Stressful Events

If you endured trauma and other stressors — especially during childhood — you could be more vulnerable to conditions like bipolar disorder. Here are some examples of the kinds of events and experiences that can be risk factors:

  • Abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual) 
  • Death in the family
  • Neglect and abandonment 
  • Bullying 
  • End of a relationship 
  • Financial problems

The list goes on, and any of it has the potential to increase the likelihood of bipolar. 


Brain Chemistry

Since certain medications can be effective for people with bipolar, it follows that brain chemistry is a factor. These drugs act on neurotransmitters, but it’s not yet known whether the brain chemistry issue is a cause or outcome of bipolar disorder.


Medication, Alcohol, or Recreational Drugs

Speaking of medication, some prescription drugs cause mania or depression as a side effect. Meanwhile, substance abuse brings out symptoms that can mimic bipolar. Any of these external factors can make it more difficult to discern the presence of a mental health issue.

So, we know that bipolar can impact anyone, and the reasons behind it are varied but not crystal clear. What does all this mean for someone with the disorder?


Diagnosis and Treatment

There are two primary types of bipolar disorder: Bipolar I and Bipolar II. To differentiate them from depression, both diagnoses require that the person has experienced at least one episode of mania. Mania is confirmed by the presence of an irritated and elevated mood for one week or more.

The main difference between I and II is that Bipolar II features less severe symptoms. This is not to say it’s a milder manifestation of Bipolar I. Each form is its own diagnosis. Treatment is essentially the same for both versions and will include medications like antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers.


Other Possible Components of Bipolar Treatment


You can be an active participant in your treatment by tending to your daily well-being. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Make healthy eating choices
  • Engage in exercise and physical activity every day
  • Stick to regular sleep patterns
  • Cultivate relaxation techniques 
  • Stick to a regular, steady schedule 
  • Stay connected with friends and family
  • Look into joining a support group with others who understand your struggle


Treatment For Substance Abuse

As mentioned, bipolar is often associated with substance issues. Some folks try to self-medicate for symptom relief, but eventually, this worsens the situation. Thus, substance abuse treatment is often needed by people with bipolar disorder.



Approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy are incredibly useful for recognizing negative thought patterns. From there, you’ll work with your therapist to replace those counterproductive behaviors and beliefs with healthy choices. Your weekly sessions are essential to managing the disorder — regardless of its cause. We’re here to help.