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Bipolar disorder in women is misdiagnosed almost three times as often as it is in men. Without question, bipolar disorder can be challenging for even trained professionals to properly diagnose the first time around. Since the calling card of this psychiatric condition is recurring bouts of depression (the depressive phase), mixed with an unusually elevated mood (the manic phase), it can be easy to see how a doctor can miss the mark.
Traditionally, women experience the depressive phase of bipolar disorder more intensely than they do the manic phase, and men are known to experience the opposite. This is almost certainly a huge factor in why bipolar disorder in women is commonly misdiagnosed as major depression rather than the two-pronged illness that it is.
Since so many women with bipolar disorder are diagnosed as having major depression, doctors will often prescribe them antidepressants to combat their symptoms. While every woman’s reactions are different, one common thread for these women who have been misdiagnosed and medicated is the appearance of a new constant, intense manic phase. It’s only after these women experience and vividly display the full spectrum of symptoms of bipolar disorder are they properly diagnosed and re-treated.
Many relate the regular misdiagnosing of bipolar disorder in women to the misdiagnosing of heart disease in women, essentially that mental health professionals are looking for the more studied “male version” of the disease and can miss the most distinguishing signs of bipolar disorder in women.
While men and women are equally likely to develop bipolar disorder, the mental illness manifests itself differently in the two genders. For example, women are much more likely than men to develop bipolar II disorder, which is a less severe form of the illness.
In addition, women experience a greater portion of “mixed” episodes, which is when they experience the symptoms of the depressive phase and the manic phase simultaneously. The most common sign of bipolar disorder in women however is that of rapid cycling. Rapid cycling is when you experience four or more episodes of depression and mania in one year, which women encounter much more frequently than men do.
When left untreated, bipolar disorder can be extremely dangerous for both sexes alike. The symptoms rarely ever go away on their own and can often intensify. Sufferers can become exasperated and desperate, turning to anything that will ease the severity of their symptoms, even if only for a bit. This is where substance abuse has a bad habit of creeping in. Drugs and alcohol can seem like the perfect escape from the symptoms of bipolar disorder in women.
When enduring an episode of mania, sufferers will often take sedatives or smoke marijuana to try and calm themselves down. When experiencing a depressive episode, they’ll often abuse alcohol, cocaine or methamphetamine in an attempt to perk themselves up.
They can become so dependent on these psychoactive substances to control how they feel, before they realize it they’ll have developed a full-blown addiction and their bipolar disorder will not have improved at all. In fact, the opposite is usually true. Substance abuse has a substantially higher likelihood of intensifying the symptoms of bipolar disorder rather than alleviating them at all.
Destination Hope: The Women’s Program is a Joint Commission accredited drug, alcohol and dual diagnosis treatment center for women in South Florida. The staff at Destination Hope understands how crucial it is to treat the co-occurring disorders of substance abuse and bipolar disorder simultaneously in order to be effective and have decades of combined experience doing just that.
If there’s a woman in your life who may be abusing drugs or alcohol to try and cope with a mental illness, please give the folks at Destination Hope a call at 1-866-808-7111 so we can guide her toward the path of recovery today. Let us remind you of the lighter side of life.