Mania Addiction

I think one of the most overlooked elements of bipolar disorder is the distinct possibility of mania addiction.

I mentioned this notion very breifly in passing in the post 10 of the Most Common Reasons People Stop Taking Medication because I can’t even begin to quantify how many times I’ve heard these three words from a person with bipolar disorder:

“I miss mania.”

First, I just want to note that addiction can happen with anything. No really, anything that gives us that surge of good feelings can be something we can become addicted to. Anything from a gambling payout to sex to food, let alone any substance that makes us feel good or even just better. 

Now, imagine that you are someone capable of getting a high without ingesting anything, without smoking anything, but just by waking up one morning it is there. Perhaps your body feels light and your motion feels effortless, your heart is pumping and you feel excited (even for no apparent reason), and you can’t quit smiling. You feel happy to take on the day, excited to do social things, and you seem to be seeing everything around you for the first time.

For a long time I believed mania addiction was something limited to hypomania, the sort of phenomenon I just described above. It is considered the low-level version of mania, and isn’t usually outrageous enough to cause damage to one’s life. Not only does it feel great, but it is often something that is fairly sustainable for long periods of time in our society. A little extra pep and energy in the workplace is often praised (rather than a herald for concern) so hypomania is something that can be channeled into the workplace very easily.

True mania, a much more intense phenomenon, is usually the area where people begin to make big, life-altering decisions that they might begin to regret later. Selling all possessions, spending their 401k, or moving to China at the drop of a hat. True mania can also be accompanied by psychosis (for some, not all) which can include delusions, hallucinations, and an overall loss of reality. Despite how terrifying a lot of the symptoms are of true mania, there are definitely people who respect this state when it occurs in them.

I have heard many examples of people who have had spiritually themed manic episodes, and for some these episodes have changed their lives (by self-admission). When someone believes they are in contact with a higher spiritual power (and I’m not saying they aren’t -consider peyote and how that has effected people’s spiritual lives), I don’t know why they wouldn’t want to keep having manic episodes.

So let’s consider taking it away. Mania, poof. It has now miraculously disappeared.

Like any addiction, the first thing that starts creeping in is withdrawal.

For most with bipolar disorder, we may have to tolerate some unfortunate and overwhelming lows, but we also have periods that are up -which many consider to be only fair.

(I just want to note quickly that not all people with bipolar disorder experience fun highs. The experience varies from person to person, and sometimes this “fun” experience is replaced with a very excruciating “not-fun” experience where the energy of the high is combined with anger or depression. People who experience this are usually less inclined to feel upset about giving up mania in general, but again, it varies from person to person.)

In my own experience I have noticed that most of the medications I have tried have very viciously ripped away those “up” moments without having any luck with them taking away any of the “downs”. In that sense, I think mania (in the liberal meaning) is the first to go for many people, and the frustration comes from feeling a constant depression, dull depression, or numbness without any of that exciting manic payoff.

This is where the words usually come out.

“I miss mania.”

And as the desperation for those good feelings escalates, it can feel easy to justify, say, dropping a medication or two. Or all.

“I never feel creative anymore, I don’t have any energy, I haven’t wanted to hang out with my friends, my work is slipping, nothing is as easy as it used to be.” 

And boy can it be difficult to learn to do tasks the difficult way when we’ve been doing them all effortlessly before.

I think this is one of the reasons it is so important that researchers are beginning to consider what positive aspects bipolar disorder has. How many people would be in favor of eradicating the depression if we could leave in a pinch of hypomania? Most, I’d venture to guess, if it could just be limited to a pinch.

Why anyone would stop taking the medications given to them is one of the things I would wager is most misunderstood by the general population, and I think people are more confused when something like bipolar disorder (rather serious, right?) is something people are defending as having benefits.

I hope I can shine just a tiny bit of light on this using what I’ve heard from others and experienced myself, and though I’m not a doctor, if this has described what you’re experiencing right now I’d suggest talking with your doctor before doing anything drastic. Out of anyone, they usually do understand the situation and should be able to help you work through it by making a change.

11 responses to “Mania Addiction

  1. This is all very true for me but I haven’t yet craved a manic episode. I’ve been in a manic state for 9 months now. I began meds 8 months ago and I’m still on a natural high. I’m sensitive to meds so the dr is scared to give me doses that most would consider normal. I was given too much Concerta and was in a state of psychosis for about 2 weeks. I am mostly manic with very few lows. My dr says to consider myself lucky bc not many ppl are like that. I do feel very productive all the time and am generally in a good mood. I sought help when my mania became overwhelming. I began to clean day and night and could never get anything clean enough. I called my mania a compulsion and I found myself unable to stop…it was taking over my life.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      Amber, I would agree with your doctor that you are probably lucky you haven’t experienced many lows (though I’m sure being manic a lot has had its share of difficulty!). I find it really interesting that bipolar disorder can be so different in different people! I have met a couple people with symptoms they described very similar to yours (especially with the cleaning) and as someone who was diagnosed with OCD as a teenager I know that any sort of compulsive behavior can be both tiring and totally overwhelming!

      I am pretty sure the first time I was taking medication I had the same sort of scenario where I coasted on a “natural high” (what I’d consider low hypomania) for about a year. Honestly I’ve been a little annoyed I haven’t been able to re-create that scenario now (ten years later) because it was really a recipe for feeling great!

      Well, I would definitely guess that since you don’t experience many lows, you don’t have much of an opportunity to experience the withdrawal feeling. It is good to hear your doctor is reacting to your sensitivity (I am very sensitive too). Thanks for sharing!

  2. Wonderfully written! Thank you! I was wondering about the term hypomania, so thanks for the definition. Do you usually find that all manic episodes are the same for people you know with bipolar disorder? I think mine are different from time to time. I am also wondering about the old diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder I also had, since some times my rash decisions don’t seem to accompany any particular mood swing.

    Like my day yesterday. I got up early and felt fine but excited, went to the local animal shelter (bit of a hell hole), almost brought home NINE cats (literally, I had them all in my carriers), got super, I mean over the top angry, brought home three kittens instead (one is for a friend), had a huge fight with my sister, and then hard core crashed that night. I mean, what the heck was that? I didn’t exactly feel in control of any of it!

    And while I am now really glad I didn’t bring home 9 cats (the shelter gave me a hard time about wanting to take them to the vet), I know lots of my “by the seat of my pants” decisions I am actually ok with since I have very interesting stories afterward. I guess I should actually tell my doc all this, too 🙂

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      The thing that boggles me about mania is that it is different for almost everybody! Even MYSELF, I have often complained to my therapist that if mania showed up the same every time (like depression does) I’d have a much easier time identifying it! Unfortunately, it acts differently pretty much every time it pops up.

      Usually it involves feeling very impulsive though, which sounds a little bit like what you described with the cats. When I am hypomanic I don’t always recognize it right away because I feel impulsive, optimistic, and excited, and it usually just seems like how I should feel on a good day. Obviously I’m no doctor, but it is possible you were experiencing hypomania, that switched to dysphoric hypomania (basically a low level mixed episode that is both angry/irritable and energetic/impulsive) part way though the day. That’s what I would guess, only because I was having that same combination every day for the last three weeks. I feel awesome in the morning, but become a real bitch at night!

      Like I said, I wouldn’t go off of just what I say though. After all, I know almost zip about borderline personality disorder so hey, that might make more sense!

      And I love the stories too. Why not, right? 😛

      • Thanks for that…I have had hypomania pop up for years but never in the same form, so I never recognized it. Not until it caused extramarital affairs did I realize it was a serious problem.

      • Thanks. I am talking through all of this with my counselor (she is awesome), and MoodScope is really helping me keep track of everything. This past week I’ve been scoring 14%, so I’ve not been blogging.

        I’ve also been having a lot of trouble with my physical health, so it has been really hard to pin down what is affecting what.

  3. Tiffany, I agree with Sarah about the dysphoric mania/hypomania; I believe those are the most dangerous states for people with suicidal thoughts. … Sarah, I think mostly-depressive people (like me) can get addicted to the depression phase. When I am wallowing in angst and self-pity, what I want most is to keep doing it. When I recover from the depression, sometimes I want to go back to it because it is familiar and somehow more comforting than venturing into the more positive world.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      Interesting, I’ve never heard anyone talk about being addicted to depression -though I have found myself wishing (while having mixed episodes usually) that I was just depressed instead because depression is so much simpler. I have definitely been out of the habit of wallowing though, in depression lately I’m much rather do anything I can to try to claw my way out of that place!

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