Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition defined by episodes of mania and depression. ¹ While scientists don’t 100% understand what causes bipolar disorder, we have a better comprehension thanks to recent research.
Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look at bipolar disorder causes. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
Bipolar’s Relationship with the Brain
Doctors have linked bipolar disorder to underlying problems in the brain. More specifically, to the neurotransmitters: ²
- Dopamine – A chemical released that makes your brain and body feel good.
- Norepinephrine (noradrenaline) – Increases heart rate, blood pumping (from heart), blood pressure, blood sugar levels, energy, and helps to break down fat.
- Serotonin – Stabilizes mood and feelings of well-being.
Irregular levels of norepinephrine and serotonin have been linked to a number of mental disorders, such as depression. Whereas dopamine’s role in regulating pleasure and emotions can be disrupted in disorders associated with psychosis, such as schizophrenia.
While researchers understand that these irregularities can cause mood disorders, there isn’t a clear understanding of how these irregularities begin.
Is Bipolar Disorder Genetic?
There are many studies linking bipolar disorder to genetics. In other words, if a close family member (i.e. parent or sibling) struggles with bipolar disorder, you’re more likely to develop the condition. ³
The most convincing evidence comes from twin studies. Scientists have reported that if one identical twin is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, there’s a 40% to 70% chance the other twin will also have a diagnosis. ⁴
Research also indicates bipolar II is much more prevalent in concerns with genetics than bipolar I. ⁵
However, not everyone with a genetic history of bipolar will develop the condition. There is a chance you can develop another psychiatric illness – such as anxiety, depression, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – due to a close relative having bipolar disorder. ⁶
Is Bipolar Disorder Environmental?
Beyond the genetic link, bipolar disorder is also related to one’s environment – especially, during childhood. If a parent struggles with the condition, they’re likely going to surround their child with many environmental stressors, including: ⁷
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Financial and sexual indiscretions
- Mood swings
Furthermore, bipolar parents may make their children susceptible to other psychiatric conditions due to bipolar behaviors. For example, if a bipolar parent causes physical or verbal abuse, their child may be susceptible to conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). ⁸
Environmental stressors are only a concern when a person is genetically predisposed to bipolar disorder. However, they may still be at risk of other mental conditions.
What Causes Bipolar Disorder Symptoms to Worsen?
Certain lifestyle habits may worsen bipolar disorder. These include:
- Arguments with Loved Ones – Even if an argument isn’t directly from by your bipolar symptoms, it can lead to both manic or depressive episodes.
- Irregular Sleep – Changes in sleep pattern along with sleeping too much or too little can have a negative effect on your mood. ⁹
- Life Stresses – Whether it’s a break up, financial difficulty, or a traumatic event, life stressors are related to worsened moods. ¹⁰
- Substance Abuse – If you’re using alcohol or drugs to self-medicate, chances are they’re only worsening your bipolar disorder. ¹¹
While treatment is essential in overcoming bipolar disorder, it can also help to make certain lifestyle changes.
More research is necessary to better understand what causes bipolar disorder. While scientists have a good idea of who’s susceptible, there’s no clear indication for risk factors until symptoms are apparent.
If you begin to notice bipolar symptoms, it’s important to seek out medical help as soon as possible. The sooner bipolar disorder is addressed, the better chance someone has at overcoming symptoms.
Still have questions concerning what causes bipolar disorder?
We invite you to ask them in the comment section below. If you have any further knowledge on the topic – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Bipolar Disorder
² World Psychiatry: The underlying neurobiology of bipolar disorder
³ The Application of Clinical Genetics (Dovepress): Genetics of bipolar disorder
⁴ Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences: Twin studies for the investigation of the relationships between genetic factors and brain abnormalities in bipolar disorder
⁵ frontiers in Psychiatry: Toward a deeper understanding of the genetics of bipolar disorder
⁶ Genetics of Brain Function (Stanford Medicine): Major Depression and Genetics
⁷ Wiley Public Health Emergency Collection: Environmental factors, life events, and trauma in the course of bipolar disorder
⁸ Journal of General Internal Medicine (Springer): The Long-term Health Outcomes of Childhood Abuse
⁹ Nature and Science of Sleep (Dovepress): The role of sleep in bipolar disorder
¹⁰ Journal of Affective Disorders: Stressful life events in bipolar I and II disorder: cause or consequence of mood symptoms?
¹¹ Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy (BMC): The prevalence and significance of substance use disorders in bipolar type I and II disorder