Treating Bipolar & Related Disorders

Treating bipolar disorder requires an integrated treatment program that utilizes not only a team of treatment professionals but also a strong support system at home. While someone suffering from bipolar disorder will never be able to be cured truly, there are many different treatment options out there that will allow them to live with the disorder without it having complete control of their life. 

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a severe psychiatric disorder that can take several different forms. Someone who suffers from bipolar disorder will typically display either manic or hypomanic traits. They may or may not have mania or hypomania that alternates with periods of depression, but they will demonstrate periods of elated or irritable moods with periods of less elation or irritability.

In addition to those two types of bipolar disorder, there are several related disorders. Those include:

  • Cyclothymic disorder
  • Bipolar disorder that is induced by drugs
  • Bipolar disorder that is due to another medical condition

There are also several other disorders that have bipolar issues; however, they do not meet the specific diagnostic criteria for the disorder. 

The presentation of bipolar disorder can be quite varied. There are numerous specifiers that can be added to the diagnosis, such as bipolar disorder with anxious distress, bipolar disorder with mixed features (both mania and depression together), and bipolar disorder with rapid cycling (numerous and relatively quick periods of mania and/or depression). 

People with bipolar disorder can also appear psychotic and may be mistakenly diagnosed with schizophrenia or some other psychotic disorder.

Is Bipolar Disorder Curable?

While the short answer to this question is no, it’s not quite that black and white. 

There is no known cure for bipolar disorder. There are, however, ways for those that suffer from the disorder to live without the symptoms overpowering their lives. With ongoing treatment and self-management, people with bipolar disorder can maintain a stable mood for extended periods. During intervals of recovery, they may experience few or even no symptoms. 

It’s important to remember that because everyone is different, not every treatment method will work for every person. If someone continues to have symptoms despite treatment, it’s important not to get discouraged. 

Instead of blaming the treatment method, or the person performing the treatment, find another treatment option that might work better. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong mental illness that has a high chance of recurrent episodes. It’s important to stay on your meds, see your doctor regularly, and take advantage of support groups and other help.

What are the Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder?

When it comes to treating bipolar disorder, there are many different options. Each person responds differently to treatment, and in many cases, multiple treatment plans are combined to help combat the symptoms of the disorder. The two most popular treatment methods are medications and therapy. 

Your doctor will work with you to determine which treatment option, or options, will be best suited for you. 


A number of medications have been proven to be effective in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Some of the more commonly prescribed medications include:

  • Mood stabilizers
  • Antipsychotics
  • Antidepressants
  • Antidepressant-antipsychotic
  • Anti-anxiety

Mood Stabilizers – Mood stabilizers are typically used to treat manic or hypomanic episodes. While the most commonly used mood stabilizer is lithium, other options include valproic acid, divalproex sodium, carbamazepine, and lamotrigine.

Antipsychotics – Antipsychotics might be prescribed to complement another medication if symptoms still persist. Commonly used antipsychotics include aripiprazole, lurasidone, quetiapine, risperidone, ziprasidone, asenapine, and olanzapine.

Antidepressants – Antidepressants might be prescribed to someone who suffers from depression as a result of their bipolar disorder. Sometimes antidepressants can actually trigger a manic episode, in which case a mood stabilizer or antipsychotic will be prescribed to counter those episodes.

Antidepressant-antipsychotic – This type of medication is just how it sounds. It combines an antidepressant, and an antipsychotic to both treat depression and work as a mood stabilizer.

Anti-anxiety – While anti-anxiety medications are proven to be effective in helping with anxiety and improving sleep, it is considered a short-term solution for those with bipolar disorder.

Finding the right medication or the right combination of medications can often be tricky. While your doctor might have a recommendation, in many cases, the only way to truly find something that works best is through trial and error. While trying different medications, it is important to be patient. Sometimes medications can take weeks or even months to truly take full effect.


Just like with medications, there have been several different therapy options that have proven to be successful in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Psychotherapy is one of the more popular options since it can be provided in either an individual, group, or even family setting. There are several different psychotherapy treatment options that have proven to be effective.

Cognitive Behavioral TherapyCognitive behavioral therapy teaches you to examine how your thoughts can affect your emotions. It helps in identifying unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replacing them with healthy, positive ones. CBT also helps in figuring out what exactly triggers your bipolar episodes and teaches you effective ways in which you can manage those triggers.

Family-Focused Therapy – Having a great support system at home can go a long way in successfully undergoing treatment for bipolar disorder. At the same time, living with someone who suffers from bipolar disorder can be difficult. Both those things are prime examples of why family therapy is so important. Not only can it help you and your loved ones recognize and manage the warning signs of mood swings, it can also help teach your family how they can best support you to stay on the right path.

Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy – Also known as IPSRT, this type of therapy focuses on the stabilization of daily activities. A consistent daily routine allows for better mood management, which is crucial for anyone suffering from bipolar disorder.

While those are the most commonly used treatment methods, there are other alternative therapy options available as well. Light therapy, meditation, and acupuncture have all been proven to be effective, especially as complementary treatment options to go with some of the other, more traditional options.

What are the Characteristics of Bipolar Disorder?

When it comes to properly diagnosing and treating bipolar disorder, it is important to know the characteristics and symptoms. Since there are multiple types of bipolar disorder, being able to accurately identify the signs and symptoms of the disorder can go a long way in being able to undergo the proper treatment. 

Symptoms can vary from person to person, as well as the severity. The following are the main characteristics to be on the lookout for:

Major Depression

For a depressive episode to qualify as major depression, it has to be severe or strong enough that it causes a noticeable disruption to your daily activities such as work, school, social activities, and relationships. A major depressive episode requires 5 or more of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or feeling as it pertains to activities
  • Significant change in weight or appetite
  • Feeling worthless
  • Experiencing excessive or inappropriate levels of guilt
  • Having suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Lack of concentration
  • Restlessness

Mania and/or Hypomania

While mania and hypomania are two different types of bipolar disorder episodes, they share similar characteristics and symptoms. The main difference between the two is that mania is more severe than hypomania and is significantly more noticeable. In some cases, a manic episode might require hospitalization. For an incident to qualify as manic or hypomanic, it has to have three or more of the following symptoms:

  • Distracted
  • Mind racing
  • Bad decision-making
  • An increase in activity, energy, or agitation
  • Lack of a need of sleep
  • Overly self-confident
  • Overly talkative
  • Abnormally upbeat, jumpy, or wired

While it can be easy at times to identify symptoms of bipolar disorder in adults, that’s not always the case in children and teens. Because children and teens tend to be moody to begin with, it can be difficult to tell whether they are just “being kids” or if it is something deeper. The biggest sign of bipolar disorder in children and teenagers may include severe mood swings that are different from their usual mood swings.

Are You In Need of Treatment For Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder can be a scary thing to live with, especially if you don’t know how to treat it effectively. Many people that suffer from bipolar disorder turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to self medicate. This can lead to a drug or alcohol addiction, overdose, or even suicide. It’s important to remember that while there might not be a known cure for the disease, it can be treated. Contact us today at Footprints to Recovery to learn about our treatment programs.

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