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Is Bipolar Disorder a Biological Illness?

Updated on January 13, 2010
Bipolar disorder is a hereditary, biological condition.
Bipolar disorder is a hereditary, biological condition.


Many people argue that bipolar disorder is not a biological ailment. Sometimes, friends and family will show their confusion about bipolar disorder by telling the person suffering from this condition to “snap out of it” or expect the person to overcome their symptoms. Is bipolar disorder a biological illness?

The fact that medications help control bipolar disorder is the first clue that bipolar disorder is a biological condition. Bipolar disorder causes physical symptoms. How could it cause physical symptoms if it is just in someone’s mind? Bipolar disorder is genetic. How could it be hereditary if it is not biological? These are some points that I make with anyone who doubts the reality that bipolar disorder is indeed a medical condition much like heart disease or diabetes.

Could bipolar disorder be used as an excuse for inappropriate behavior? Absolutely. Someone with bipolar disorder could claim that they shoplifted or cheated on a spouse due to the condition. It is unfortunate for those of us who have bipolar disorder and work tirelessly to control such impulses. Yet, we understand the struggles of bipolar disorder. Only the individual can know if there has been considerable effort to control any such impulses or if they are using it as an excuse to act badly.

The causes of bipolar disorder are chemical imbalances in the brain. This imbalance caused both emotional and physical symptoms. During a manic episode, someone may experience insomnia, changes in appetite and sex drive, euphoria, impulsivity, and irritability. Someone having a manic episode may experience a psychotic episode that features delusions of grandeur, such as thinking that one has superpowers or has been chosen as special by God. People should understand that these are symptoms caused by the chemical imbalance and not intentional behavior.

During a depressive episode, the person with bipolar disorder is likely to experience both physical and emotional symptoms. They may feel hopeless, helpless, have a depressed mood, and have suicidal thoughts or intentions. The physical symptoms include changes in sleep patterns, changes in appetite, and changes in sex drive. Some people experience achiness similar to the body aches that are associated with the flu.

The medication that is most commonly used to treat bipolar disorder is a group of anti-seizure medications known in psychiatry as mood-stabilizers. Lithium and Depakote are two common mood-stabilizers. These medications are also used to decrease excess electrical activity in people with epilepsy to prevent seizures.

Experts are still unsure how a medication that decreases excessive electrical activity in the brain is also an effective treatment for bipolar disorder. Could this medication also decrease excessive neurotransmitter (chemical) activity? Hopefully some day, bipolar disorder will get more attention in medical research so we have such answers. But, the point is that it does effectively treat bipolar disorder, so bipolar disorder must have a biological cause.

People who suffer from bipolar disorder have enough to handle without the people close to them accusing them of using it as an excuse. Truth is, I would not wish this disease on my worst enemy. Thankfully, bipolar disorder is treatable. Someone with bipolar disorder should work with their physician or psychiatrist to find an effective medical treatment for the illness. If the person with bipolar disorder is subjected to accusations and has a lack of support from family and friends, I would encourage them to seek out a support group for people with bipolar disorder.


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    • michellebell1972 profile image

      Michelle 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I truly believe it is a hereditary disease. My father and brother are just like me but were never diagnosed. They choose to self medicate. I also recall my grandmother having horrible mood swings. One minute you were the love of her life(usually when she was drunk) and the next she would get so angry and hostile towards everyone and everything. I hope one day they will learn more and maybe find better relief for sufferers. Great article!

    • Sheila Wilson profile image

      Sheila Wilson 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      That's very true, amjacques. And, those who suffer from bipolar disorder who are creative will sometimes go off their meds because they feel the meds are detracting from their creative talents.

    • amjacques12 profile image

      amjacques12 6 years ago

      Part of the disease is, at times, thinking they are well enough to get off meds, or feeling that someone is trying to control them by putting them on meds and thus, sending them back to step one...sad.

    • heart4theword profile image

      heart4theword 8 years ago from hub

      Checking out a good naturpath, has been helpful for some I know. There are natural herbs, that help maintain this chemical imbalance:) Great Hub!