Causes Of Bipolar Disorder And What To Do About It

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition involving severe mood, energy, and behavior shifts. While there is no one cause of the condition, various genetic, biological, and environmental factors may play a role in its development. 

For individuals with bipolar disorder and their loved ones, learning more about these factors may help them understand the condition and identify how to manage it more effectively.

Help is available for bipolar disorder

Possible causes of bipolar disorder 

Below are some of the various factors that may contribute to the development of bipolar disorder. 

Genetic factors

Bipolar disorder is often considered a genetic mental illness, and research shows that people who have a first-degree relative with the condition have a higher risk of developing it themselves. Research into the genetics of bipolar disorder is ongoing, but some studies suggest that variations in genes may combine to increase the risk of developing bipolar disorder. According to other studies, 60% to 85% of all risk of developing the condition is genetic. 

Biological factors

In addition to genetic factors, research suggests that differences in brain structure and functioning may cause the development of bipolar disorder, as there appear to be subtle physical differences in the brains of people with the condition. 

An imbalance of brain chemicals may also contribute, as there is some evidence that a person may develop symptoms of bipolar disorder if they have an imbalance in the levels of one or more neurotransmitters, such as noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine, which are some of the chemicals responsible for controlling the brain’s functions.

A few medical conditions have also been closely associated with bipolar disorder. For example, bipolar disorder may occur in connection with multiple sclerosis, Cushing’s disease, or stroke. 

Significant losses or traumatic events

When faced with a significant loss, such as the death of a close family member or loved one, some people experience shifts in their mood. Depression has been closely associated with the grieving process and is often considered a stage of grief. However, mania or hypomania can also follow a loss for people with bipolar disorders. Major losses and other traumatic events can affect mood, habits, and lifestyle and may incite a manic or depressive episode

Other life stressors

People can develop various health challenges when under extreme stress. Medical conditions like gastrointestinal disorders may emerge as life stressors increase and could indicate a correlation with bipolar disorder. Similarly, stressors can incite the onset or worsening of bipolar disorder. A demanding job, a difficult divorce, or taking on too many responsibilities are a few stressors that may contribute to the development of this condition. 

Substance use

Substance misuse may increase the risk of bipolar disorder or cause an episode. Researchers have noted that bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder often occur together, and alcohol can often cause mania or severe depression. 

There has also been research into whether caffeine consumption impacts the course of bipolar disorder, but the research has not been conclusive.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh

Can you prevent bipolar disorder?

There is no definitive way to prevent bipolar disorder. However, there are ways to keep the condition from worsening, and treatments are available for bipolar disorder to manage the condition. Treatment for bipolar disorder often includes a combination of approaches, such as talk therapy, medication, and healthy lifestyle choices.

Healthy lifestyle habits that may help individuals manage the condition alongside professional treatment may include: 

  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Reducing alcohol consumption
  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Reducing life stressors
  • Learning relaxation techniques to cope with unavoidable stressors

If you want to explore medication for bipolar disorder, talk to your doctor to examine your options and determine what might work best for you. In addition, consult a doctor before starting, changing, or stopping a medication. 

Help is available for bipolar disorder

Support options 

Therapy is another treatment option for bipolar disorder, regardless of the subtype or cause. Talk therapy may help you develop coping strategies, make lifestyle changes, learn relaxation techniques, process a significant loss, and work through concerns that may be causing you distress. You can seek help from a therapist in person near you or connect with a licensed therapist online through a platform like BetterHelp. 

Different people may have different preferences, but for some people with bipolar disorder, the symptoms that can arise during depressive episodes may make it difficult to leave the house for therapy. With online therapy, you can have sessions from the comfort of your home, which may be more convenient. In addition, online platforms may offer unique features, such as worksheets or group sessions, which can be included in a weekly or monthly subscription cost. 

Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy for bipolar disorder, with one such study providing evidence of the efficacy of internet-based psychoeducation interventions for bipolar disorder in reducing depressive symptoms. Another study found that 95% of participants with bipolar disorder reported improved quality of life after treatment.


There is no one cause of bipolar disorder, but research suggests that a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors may play a role. Treatment for bipolar disorder often includes a combination of approaches, such as talk therapy, medication, and healthy lifestyle choices. 

If you are interested in seeking therapy but depressive symptoms are making it difficult to commute to an appointment, online therapy may be a convenient alternative, as it allows you to have sessions from the comfort of your home.

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