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Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a challenging psychiatric condition if you suspect that you or a loved one struggles with bipolar disorder, call 844.875.5609 to speak with someone from Promises Behavioral Health about bipolar disorder risk factors and our mental health treatment programs offered at our centers throughout the United States.

What Are the Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder?

The exact cause of bipolar disorder remains a mystery. Unfortunately, anyone can develop bipolar disorder. However, as with most conditions, some individuals have a greater risk than most due to certain factors. The most likely risk factors include the following.


In some cases, there seems to be a clear genetic link. You may have a higher risk of developing bipolar disorder if you have relatives struggling with other psychiatric conditions, such as:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Not only can bipolar disorder run in the family, but those family members are also more likely to share certain additional traits, including the age during which they experienced their first manic episode, the frequency of their episodes, and co-occurring mental health conditions.


This medical condition affects both men and women, although in somewhat different ways. Men, for example, are more likely to struggle with early-onset bipolar disorder, often considered a more debilitating form of the condition. Women have higher rates of rapid cycling, including four or more manic or depressive episodes each year.

Abnormal Brain Structure

Bipolar disorder may also have some roots in abnormalities within the brain. Studies show that people in the disorder’s early stages showed changes in specific brain structures, including the hippocampus, amygdala, and the subgenual prefrontal cortex.


It’s common for a person to receive an initial diagnosis of the condition after a stressful or traumatic event. Events that may act as triggers include:

  • Relationship issues with spouses, partners, or significant others
  • Major life shifts, such as leaving for college or the loss of a spouse
  • Family strife
  • Acquiring a significant responsibility, like caring for an aging parent or a child with a severe illness
  • Extended periods of stress, such as waiting for a deployed spouse to return home safely
  • Experiencing serious or prolonged trauma during childhood

From the anxiety of losing a job to the trauma of living through an accident, stress—particularly severe or chronic stress—is one environmental factor that increases the risk of developing bipolar disorder.

Drug or Alcohol Abuse

It’s not uncommon for a person with bipolar disorder to also struggle with alcoholism. Some theorize that people with bipolar disorder gravitate toward alcohol to self-medicate. Other researchers suspect that alcohol use affects the brain in the same way as bipolar disorder. Even as researchers look to pinpoint the link, one thing is clear—alcohol use and bipolar symptoms are connected.


Many people with bipolar disorder are diagnosed between 15 and 30. It’s important to note that bipolar disorder can develop at any age. The condition is sometimes diagnosed in seniors after a severe illness or stroke. Children can also be affected, with some diagnosed as young as six. Your age may not be the only factor that raises the risk of developing bipolar disorder.

Tips to Lower Your Risk of Developing Bipolar Disorder

A risk factor increases your chance of developing a particular illness or disorder. If you have one or more risk factors for bipolar disorder, you can take several actions to lower the chance you’ll develop it—such as:

  • Talking with your primary care physician
  • Managing stress levels
  • Working with a therapist
  • Avoiding alcohol and other mood-altering substances

Bipolar disorder is a severe psychiatric condition that can significantly impair your ability to function. If left untreated, the consequences can be extreme.

Find Bipolar Disorder Treatment in the US with Promises Behavioral Health

If you or a loved one has several risk factors for bipolar disorder, contact Promises today at 844.875.5609 to learn how we can help you with assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and managing life with the condition.

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