When looking for a solution to a potential bipolar diagnosis, the medical community has predominantly erred on the side of overdiagnosis and overmedication. Here are the problems that can cause along with the issue of not medicating someone diagnosed as bipolar.
The Problem of Bipolar Overmedication
In a previous post, we discussed the problems with overdiagnosing mental issues in psychiatry. In this post, we’re going to branch off from that topic to discuss the impact overmedicating for bipolar disorder can have, including:
- What Is Bipolar Overmedication?
- What Causes Bipolar Overmedication?
- How Bipolar Medication Works
- The Unintended Side Effects of Prescribed Drugs
- What Happens When Someone Is Overmedicated for Bipolar?
- Does Everyone With Bipolar Need Medication?
- Our Solution to Overmedication
What Is Bipolar Overmedication?
Bipolar overmedication occurs when someone diagnosed as bipolar ends up taking more medication than their body needs or doesn’t need to begin with.
What Causes Bipolar Overmedication?
Bipolar overmedication most commonly occurs for one of two reasons:
- Doctors may prescribe more medication when standard treatment protocols or lower dosages don’t work as intended.
- People incorrectly diagnosed as bipolar take medication to treat something they don’t ultimately have.
Both circumstances lead to adverse treatment outcomes in the individual and are surprisingly common. Several studies have shown that only 30% to 40% of individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder actually meet the criteria for the condition. Since medication is the standard treatment for bipolar I and II and 89% of people diagnosed as bipolar take medication for it, a portion of that population is taking medication for a disorder they may not ultimately have.
How Bipolar Medication Works
For people who are accurately diagnosed as bipolar, medication is unquestionably the standard of treatment. The most commonly prescribed medication is a mood stabilizer like lithium, valproic acid, or lamotrigine. These mood-stabilizing medications help to control the frequency and intensity of manic or hypomanic episodes.
When bipolar medication is working as it should, the effects of current depressive and manic symptoms should be mitigated along with a lower likelihood of recurrence. In our experience, a client accurately diagnosed as bipolar has a 37% chance of a manic or depressive episode recurring during the year, while the risk of recurrence for unmedicated individuals may be as high as 80% over a given year.
The Unintended Side Effects of Prescribed Drugs for Bipolar
The side effects of medication used to treat bipolar disorder vary depending on the specific medication used. For lithium—the most commonly prescribed mood stabilizer for bipolar—some unintended side effects may include weight gain, acne, shaking hands, or frequent urination. However, these side effects are not enough to outweigh the benefits of more stable mood patterns.
At the same time, not all of the side effects are necessarily negative. Preliminary research has shown that medication like antipsychotics, lithium, and antidepressants may actually protect brain cells from damage. However, this only applies when someone is taking stable, regimented doses of prescription medication and does not apply to instances of overmedication.
Do you suspect that you or someone you care about may be overmedicated for bipolar? Our experts can help you identify the warning signs. Let’s Talk
What Happens When Someone Is Overmedicated for Bipolar?
When someone is overmedicated for bipolar, they most often experience a toxic reaction that leads to dizziness or disorientation. From a broader perspective, a lack of symptom improvement, even when upping prescribed doses, is a clear indication of overmedication. If someone believes that they’re being overmedicated for bipolar, they should bring up their concerns to the prescribing physician and negotiate their optimal regimens.
Does Everyone With Bipolar Need Medication?
As noted above, individuals taking medication for a correct bipolar diagnosis only face a 37% chance of experiencing a recurring manic or depressive episode over the course of a year. On the other hand, individuals face an 80% chance of a recurring episode when they go unmedicated. For individuals with an accurate bipolar diagnosis, the best chance of improving their quality of life is with the proper medication treatment regimen while being cautious of the warning signs of overmedication.
The PCH Solution for Overmedication
At PCH, we experience firsthand the benefits of properly regimented bipolar medication along with the dangers of bipolar overmedication. While we recognize that bipolar medication plays an instrumental role on the road to well-being, we also realize that the most critical first step is confirming an accurate diagnosis. An incorrect bipolar diagnosis is one of the most common causes for bipolar overmedication, so we start by verifying the diagnosis for each individual who enters our program. Learn more about our approach to treating bipolar disorder and reach out to our team if you think PCH is right for you.