Cyclothymia and Addiction Treatment

Cyclothymia, or cyclothymic disorder, is a chronic mood disorder that can have a profound impact on your ability to function, and can cause overwhelming emotional distress for both you and your family. Although cyclothymia is considered the mildest form of bipolar disorder, its enduring nature and long-lasting mood episodes often cause deep psychological pain, interfere with your social and professional life, and erode your self-esteem. When cyclothymia occurs alongside drug or alcohol addiction, the damage can increase exponentially, and requires specialized care designed to meet the unique needs of people with co-occurring disorders.

Enduring Instability

Cyclothymia is a form of bipolar disorder characterized by persistent, enduring mood instability. Although people with cyclothymia do not experience the depth of depression common amongst people with bipolar II or the extreme manic highs of bipolar I, your symptoms leave you oscillating between low-grade depression and hypomania—and these mood episodes are present at least half of the time. You never go more than two months at a time without a mood episode, and the pattern is typically unpredictable; you never know what will come next and, often, your unstable moods wreak havoc on both your personal and professional life.

What exactly cyclothymia looks like is different for each person: While some experience primarily depressive episodes, others experience a more equal combination, or even primarily hypomanic episodes. Often, people with this disorder do not seek treatment for hypomania itself, as it is often experienced as pleasurable and a welcome reprieve from the pain of depression. In fact, many don’t recognize hypomanic symptoms as clinically significant, and focus solely on depressive episodes when seeking help. However, the impulsivity and recklessness experienced in hypomania can have serious consequences and must be afforded the same level of attention as more overtly distressing symptoms. Furthermore, the instability itself is a major barrier to function and a lack of consistent, predictable emotional experiences can deeply impact your overall quality of life.

Symptoms of Cyclothymia

The diagnostic criteria for cyclothymia requires that you experience both depressive and hypomanic episodes over a period of at least two years.  These episodes may last from days to months, and although they never reach the full diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder, hypomania, or mania, they nevertheless cause significant distress or functional impairment.

Symptoms of depression:

  • Sadness, despair, and hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Fatigue and low motivation
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Poor appetite
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Loss of sex drive

Symptoms of hypomania:

  • Feelings of elation or euphoria
  • Unusual energy
  • Irritability, anger, and agitation
  • Rapid speech
  • Racing thoughts
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Lowered inhibitions and increased impulsivity, such as participating in high-risk sexual activity or irresponsible spending
  • Increased productivity

The frequency, severity, and duration of each mood episode may vary from person to person, and two people may have drastically different experiences of the same disorder.

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Cyclothymia and Addiction

Cyclothymia can be a deeply disorienting and distressing emotional experience, and many people turn to drugs in an attempt to relieve psychological suffering; experts estimate that 50% of people living with cyclothymia also experience a substance use disorder. While self-medication may provide a temporary reprieve from painful mood symptoms, it also lays the foundation for addiction to take hold, and can aggravate both depressive and hypomanic symptoms. Meanwhile, the lowered inhibitions and propensity for risk-taking associated with hypomania decrease your ability to make healthy choices, and you may engage in increasingly risky behaviors that threaten both your immediate and long-term well-being. In some cases, drug use can cause people with cyclothymia to develop full-blown depressive, hypomanic, and manic symptoms, presenting new clinical challenges and severely impairing your ability to function.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Cyclothymia is a highly treatable mental health disorder, and typically responds well to pharmacological and psychotherapeutic interventions. However, if you are experiencing a co-occurring drug or alcohol addiction, it is vital to seek specialized dual diagnosis treatment to ensure that both conditions are treated simultaneously; without concurrent treatment, you are left without the tools to create an emotionally and behaviorally healthy, stable life, and are at increased risk for relapse.

Effective dual diagnosis treatment must be personalized to ensure that you receive the kind and quality of care you need, delivered in a way that makes sense for your unique needs. A tailored, comprehensive treatment approach that draws on a variety of evidence-based therapies provides you with multiple avenues toward healing that complement and strengthen each other to optimize recovery. The most effective treatment modalities for cyclothymia and co-occurring drug addiction include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Experiential Therapy
  • Holistic Therapies
  • 12-step support groups

There is also a range of pharmacological treatments, including mood stabilizers, that can provide lasting relief for mood symptoms, facilitating engagement in the therapeutic process. Working with a psychiatrist who has the training and experience to create effective, well-tolerated medication protocols is critical to ensuring you receive optimal benefit from pharmacological interventions.

Dual diagnosis treatment gives you the opportunity to fully explore the relationship between your cyclothymia and your addiction to gain a complete understanding of how they fuel each other, and identify obstacles to healing. In doing so, you can begin to remove the roots of both of your conditions simultaneously, by developing not only greater self-awareness, but concrete skills to help you cope—without resorting to self-destructive behaviors. Within a warm, nurturing environment, you will have the support you need to create meaningful and lasting change that will allow you to live the life you want.

If you would like more information about drug addiction and cyclothymia, or have any questions about dual diagnosis treatment, we encourage you to contact us at any time. We are always available to offer support and guidance to help you find the treatment you need to move toward sustainable recovery and healing of mind, body, and spirit.