Alcoholism and Bipolar Disorder

Women with bipolar disorder are seven times more likely to become alcoholics.

By Colin Allen, published on May 5, 2003 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

The temptation to have just one more drink may be too great for women with bipolar disorder. Research has found that they are seven times more likely to suffer from alcoholism than other women. Bipolar men are at risk too; they are three times more likely to suffer from alcoholism than other men.

The worry, experts note, is that these patients try to self-medicate themselves by drinking too much. To understand the drinking problems of bipolar patients, Mark Frye and researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles examined 267 outpatients enrolled in the Stanley Foundation Bipolar Network. They questioned patients and physicians about alcohol use.

Researchers found that men with bipolar, who are alcoholics, most often had a family history of alcoholism, bipolar disorder and drug abuse when compared with nonalcoholic bipolar men. Alcoholism among bipolar women, however, did not stem from family lineage. Their addiction had more to do with anxiety and depression.

Bipolar women are more at risk of developing alcoholism than non-bipolar women. Fortunately, most of the women in the study avoided drinking in the first place. Only 29 percent of them had developed alcoholism. Bipolar men, however, more often suffer from alcoholism—49 percent were classified as alcoholics.