Although it has been suspected that there is a genetic link between bipolar disorder and alcoholism, this is only a theory.  What is known as a fact is that the two often occur together.


Alcoholism has been known to be passed down in the family, but whether this is due to environment or genetics has not been proven.  However, the fact that bipolar disorder does have a hereditary component has been proven by years and years of clinical research.


Does this mean that everyone with bipolar disorder will become an alcoholic, or that every alcoholic will have bipolar disorder?  That's not what I'm saying.


However, the fact remains that many people with bipolar disorder do use alcohol – either due to the fact that they were already alcoholics before diagnosis, or that they began to use alcohol after they were diagnosed (either for pleasure or, perhaps, to mask the symptoms of the disorder).


In some cases, bipolar disorder clearly develops before alcoholism.  On the other hand, the disorder may increase the chances of alcohol abuse.


Some people with bipolar disorder have been known to use alcohol during a depressive episode to try to make themselves feel better but, since alcohol is a depressant, it only worsens their state.


Other people with the disorder will use alcohol during a manic episode to try to "come down" from their manic high. 


During a manic episode, a person has also been known to use alcohol recreationally yet found themselves addicted to it afterwards.


When bipolar disorder and alcoholism occur at the same time (called co-morbidity, or dual diagnosis), each can worsen the symptoms and severity of the other.


In addition, alcoholism can complicate the treatment of bipolar disorder, and vice-versa.