Can Bipolar Behavior Mimic what is Considered Alcoholic Behavior?

I am 58 years old, in recovery for alcoholism and also diagnosed with biploar II. I take medication daily for the bipolar, which has evened out my life. So I have both issues. My 30 year old son struggles in life with finances, relationships, committments, keeping his word and he's usually all over the map. My ex-wife, his mom, also an AA member like myself, beats the drum that it's alcoholism, even though the son isn't drinking that much. Any behavior that is off beat, she says is alcoholism.

He went to see a Psychiatrist, at my urging, and he was diagnosed as bipolar II, which I suspected. But his mom doesn't understand bipolar and it seems like she is in resistance to acknowledging it. She keeps saying that he needs to go to AA and that is the answer.

I heard that the behaviors of bipolar, the un-manageable ones, can look like and the un-magability of the alcoholic, thus confusing the two. Can you shed some light on this. Can bipolar behaviors be mistaken for alcoholic behaviors, especially when the person is not having withdrawl or heavy drinking?

On another note, since I have come to understand bipolar issues, I have seen people in AA with years of sobriety struggle with their sobriety and when listening to what they describe it smells of bipolar. But they refuse to believe it's something other than their alcoholism, so they don't get treatment for it. I have also noticed that there is a prejudice amongst some members in AA regarding newly discovered mental disorders. Old timers are quick to dis-spell any notion that anything else could be responsible for the insanity an alcoholic suffers other than alcohol. Your thoughts please.

This is a good question for several reasons. Firstly it is important to keep in mind that the process of assessing diagnosis is

extremely complicated. It is far from and exact science. Bipolar disorder is frequently misdiagnosed.

Can bipolar behaviors be mistaken for alcoholic behaviors, especially when the person is not having withdrawal or heavy drinking?

The actual diagnosis for bipolar disorder cannot be made if the symptoms are due to “the direct of physiological effects of a substance”. Generally, withdrawal is also considered a period of time when observed symptoms would not be considered to be attributable to a diagnosis like bipolar.

When someone is high on substances it is possible that their behavior will mimic symptoms more commonly seen when in a manic state, and when someone is withdrawing from substances the symptoms of depression can be more easily confused.

Being intoxicated or being in withdrawal can also produce psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations in the person who is using substances. Those symptoms are similar to those seen in both phases of bipolar disorder.

In order for the diagnosis to be made of bipolar disorder, the symptoms cannot be due to substance abuse or withdrawal so this needs to be carefully assessed.

So the answer is yes. Substance abusers can look like they have bipolar disorder when they do not.

However, 65 percent of people with bipolar disorder also have substance abuse problems, so it is not unlikely that those people who are in recovery that you speak of, who are exhibiting those symptoms you are observing actually do have a mood disorder. Alcoholics or substance abusers who are not using or in withdrawal, do not have symptoms that mimic a mood disorder unless they have a mood disorder ( or a physical condition that accounts for it) .

This does not mean that your son does not have bipolar disorder. Symptoms are also exacerbated in those that have bipolar disorder and are using substances, and that may be the case with your son.

Comments for Can Bipolar Behavior Mimic what is Considered Alcoholic Behavior?

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Mar 09, 2018
Bipolar illness NEW
by: Lulu

He seems to be in his best when intoxicated, happy, present, interactive, communicative...
Beware !!! The next day he is the other person, behavior is withdrawn, indifferent, distant, like a mistake was made 12 hours ago.
I have seen this cycle each time he is intoxicated or alive. Very sad.

Jan 27, 2015
Manic or Drunk NEW
by: Anonymous

She might be drinking as she has in the past OR is her manic making her appear intoxicated? HELP PLEASE

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