A life event may trigger a mood episode in a person with a genetic disposition for bipolar disorder.
Even without clear genetic factors, altered health habits, alcohol or drug abuse, or hormonal problems can trigger an episode.
Among those at risk for the illness, bipolar disorder is appearing at increasingly early ages. This apparent increase in earlier occurrences may be due to underdiagnosis of the disorder in the past. This change in the age of onset may be a result of social and environmental factors that are not yet understood.
Although substance abuse is not considered a cause of bipolar disorder, it can worsen the illness by interfering with recovery. Use of alcohol or tranquilizers may induce a more severe depressive phase.
Substances that can cause a manic-like episode include:
Illicit drugs such as cocaine, “designer drugs” such as Ecstasy and amphetamines.
Excessive doses of certain over-the-counter drugs, including appetite suppressants and cold preparations.
Nonpsychiatric medications, such as medicine for thyroid problems and corticosteroids like prednisone.
Excessive caffeine (moderate amounts of caffeine are fine).
If a person is vulnerable to bipolar disorder, stress, frequent use of stimulants or alcohol, and lack of sleep may prompt onset of the disorder. Certain medications also may set off a depressive or manic episode. If you have a family history of bipolar disorder, notify your physician so as to help avoid the risk of a medication-induced manic episode.
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