Can Trauma Cause Bipolar Disorder?

Can Trauma Cause Bipolar Disorder?

Also called manic depression, bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder associated with episodes of mood swings that range from manic highs to depressive lows. The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown. Still, scientists suspect that in addition to the possibility of different genes acting together, various factors can contribute to and increase the likelihood of developing this disease. Trauma is a common attribute of many mental health disorders, but can trauma cause bipolar disorder? Identifying any possible underlying factors or triggers for this disease can help with early detection and treatment. With that said, today we’re going to look into the relationship between bipolar disorder and trauma.


What Is Bipolar Disorder Like?

The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be split into two categories: manic and depressive. People with this condition experience mood swings that range from an extreme high (manic) to a depressing low (depressive.)

During a manic episode, a person with bipolar disorder may feel energetic, happy, positive, optimistic, and invincible. However, while these episodes seem happy and fun, with them also comes an increased risk of reckless behavior, such as substance abuse, gambling, fighting, and accidents like car crashes.

A person’s sex drive may also be increased during manic episodes, increasing the chances of engaging in risky sexual behaviors. Ultimately, this extreme sense of invincibility and energy can make the depressive lows of bipolar disorder seem all the more “depressing.”

During depressive episodes or mood swings, a person with bipolar disorder may feel sad, empty, worthless, or even numb. They may lose interest in activities they normally enjoy and withdraw from loved ones.

Thoughts of death and suicide are also common during depressive episodes, which, of course, can end in tragedy if the person doesn’t receive care for their condition. With bipolar disorder treatment, people with this condition can learn how to recognize the onset of manic or depressive symptoms, helping them remember that they have a condition and feelings of invincibility and depression are just byproducts of their condition.


Defining Trauma

Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event, such as an accident, natural disaster, sexual assault, racism, discrimination, oppression, violence, war, terrorism, or a near-death experience. Usually, trauma manifests itself into conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and it can even contribute to substance use disorders.

It’s normal for people to experience shock or denial right after a traumatic event. However, long-term reactions like unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and physical symptoms like rapid breathing, headaches, and nausea can indicate a deeper problem.

While these feelings are normal, some people who’ve experienced trauma struggle to move past the event and recover, which can manifest itself into a more serious form of mental illness. Although trauma can occur at any age, it’s found to have an especially debilitating effect when it occurs during childhood. Childhood trauma is often the source of many individuals’ mental health disorders.

Also referred to as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), research shows that at least 62% of U.S. adults have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience, and 25% of adults in the U.S. have experienced three or more.1 An original study on ACEs shows that people who have experienced at least four or more adverse childhood experiences were:2

  • 2 times more likely to smoke
  • 5 times more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases and infections
  • 4 time more likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (lung disease)
  • 7 times more likely consider themselves an alcoholic
  • 10 times more likely to have injected street drugs
  • 12 times more likely to have attempted suicide


Considering all of these possible aftereffects of trauma, we can’t help but wonder: can a traumatic event trigger bipolar disorder, too?


Does Trauma Cause Bipolar Disorder?

Although trauma is most often associated with PTSD, depression, or anxiety, trauma can cause bipolar disorder, as well. However, it’s more of a contributing factor rather than a direct cause.

To clarify, exposure to trauma can increase your risk of developing bipolar disorder, but it does not guarantee that you will. Plenty of people can recover from traumatic events.

In addition to other genetic, environmental, and physical factors, trauma is believed to contribute to bipolar disorder by causing emotional distress. Childhood trauma is an especially common risk factor of bipolar disorder, which includes experiences like sexual or physical abuse, neglect, and the loss of a loved one.

Experiencing trauma at an age when you’re still developing physically, mentally, and emotionally can have a significantly negative impact on your ability to process and regulate your emotions. Considering that trauma also contributes to substance abuse, the chronic misuse of drugs and alcohol can also lead to a chemical imbalance that may increase your chances of developing bipolar disorder, as well.

Furthermore, a family history of bipolar disorder or any other kind of mental health disorder is a leading contributing factor to the development of bipolar disorder. So if you have a close relative who has this condition or other mental health disorders, speak to a doctor about your risks and how to identify any early signs.


Help for Bipolar Disorder

Not only is bipolar disorder caused by trauma sometimes, but it can also occur from a variety of other factors, such as the loss of a loved one, substance abuse, and more. If you suspect that you or a loved one is showing signs of bipolar disorder, don’t wait to get help.

Our South Florida luxury rehab offers mental health and addiction treatment in Palm Beach to help people with all kinds of substance use and mental health disorders. Among our various programs is bipolar disorder treatment, during which patients will work in an individual and group setting with counselors to learn more about their conditions and how to manage their symptoms.

Our goal is to help people not only recover from their disorders but also learn how to live a life that’s not commanded by drugs, alcohol, or mental illness. For more information about our addiction and mental health treatment, call Seaside Palm Beach today at 561-677-9374.


Related Reading:

How to Heal from Trauma Bonding

What Is High Functioning Anxiety? | Symptoms and Treatment


  1. NIH – Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences From the 2011-2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in 23 States
  2. NIH – Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study

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