What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

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Bipolar disorder can be a serious mental illness that can lead to dangerous behaviors including suicide. People with bipolar disorder can experience intense mood swings, going from euphoric highs that leave them unable to accept their own limitations to such depressive lows that make them unable to cope with even the simplest task.

Even when the bipolar is between these dramatic episodes, they can go from happy to sad, sad to angry or any other combination of total opposite emotions in just seconds. This can be difficult for those around them to understand or cope with.

The Causes of Bipolar Disorder

There are a lot of different things that can contribute to a person’s bipolar suffering and their inability to control their emotional state: genetics, the environment, chemical imbalances, and more.

Chemical Imbalances

When a patient has bipolar disorder, the chemicals in their brain are off and do not work properly. This is caused by malfunctioning neurons. These are messengers found in the brain that send signals back and forth to each other using chemical reactions. It is these same chemicals that create emotions. For those with bipolar disorder, the brain either makes too little or too many of these important chemicals, sending the emotional part of the brain into a tizzy. As the brain continually gets the wrong signals, it begins to send out the wrong messages and these messages can cause the erratic behavior and violent mood swings.


There has been a lot of research done on the genetic factors that may control a person’s susceptibility to developing bipolar disorder in their lifetime. While there is a definite genetic link, making bipolar disorder hereditary, not everyone with a family history of the disease will get it. Environmental factors also play a significant role in whether or not the brain overloads neuron responses, flooding itself with the wrong chemicals to stabilize the emotions. In some cases, avoiding certain environmental stimulus has been shown to decrease a person’s risk factors for bipolar, even when a strong genetic tendency is present.

That said, those with one or both parents diagnosed to be bipolar must be especially diligent in watching for signs of the disorder and getting help when needed. It has been reported that when one parent has bipolar disorder, the child’s chance of coming down with it sometime during their lifetime is increased by 50%; nearly 80% if both parents suffer with the disorder.

When such a high risk factor is evident, it is especially helpful for the person to learn how to cope with stress; avoid drug and alcohol use; seek regular counseling; adopt healthy eating habits; and do their best to maintain a balanced lifestyle and relationships. Since these kinds of stressors can sometimes trigger a negative neuron response and actually turn on? the bipolar genes, staying away from dangerous activities and undue stress is essential to maintaining a balanced emotional state.

The Environment

As stated, the environment, too can play a role in causing bipolar disorder. Exposure to certain toxins (including alcohol and drugs) in utero have been linked to bipolar disorder, as were child neglect and abuse. Anything that can disrupt the normal growth and maturity of a person’s emotions as an infant or child can lead to disrupted chemical production in the brain and cause bipolar disorder later on in life.

In addition, the types of relationships a patient has during both childhood and their adult years can affect their emotional responses and activate a bipolar gene that may have remained dormant for a time. For these reasons, it is important to learn good relationship building skills to ensure that you do not activate a bipolar response to the stresses of relational issues in the future.

Living with Bipolar Disorder

While it is not always possible to alter your surroundings or change the risks you were put under as a child, understanding the causes of bipolar disorder can help you better understand this debilitating condition and even prevent episodes in the future. Some common things just about anyone can do to help keep bipolar from interfering with their life are to:

  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol
  • Avoid undue stress
  • Get enough sleep
  • Seek counseling when needed
  • Maintain a balanced schedule

Bipolar disorder can be a difficult disease to control; but it is possible to live a normal life despite the condition. With the right medical intervention and help, many bipolar victims have been able to manage their symptoms and live a relatively normal life despite it.

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