What is the Link Between Anger and Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder and is associated with episodes of severe mood swings that may range from manic highs to depressive lows. It is a very common disorder and nearly 20 million cases get diagnosed every year just in the United States alone. There is no cure for this condition, though treatment helps keep the symptoms in check. The exact cause of bipolar disorder is still unknown, though it is believed that a combination of environmental factors, genetics, and altered brain chemistry and structure have a role to play. One of the biggest problems patients of bipolar disorder face is dealing with their angry outbursts. But why does this happen?

Today we take a look at how to deal with anger when you have bipolar disorder and also to better understand the exact link between anger and bipolar disorder.

What is the Link Between Anger and Bipolar Disorder?

As mentioned above, bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that is known to cause certain unexpected and usually dramatic shifts in a person’s mood. These moods can be euphoric and intense. This phase is referred to as the manic period. On the other hand, these mood swings may leave you feeling depressed and helpless, a phase known as the depressive period. Due to this, bipolar disorder is also sometimes referred to as the manic-depressive disorder.

The changes in mood that is associated with bipolar disorder can also have a huge impact on a person’s energy levels. People who are experiencing an episode of bipolar disorder will usually tend to exhibit different activity levels, behaviors, and varying energy levels as well.

Of all the emotions experienced in bipolar patients, irritability is generally a common one. Irritability is especially common during the manic episodes, but this is not to say that it cannot happen at other times. A bipolar patient who is irritable gets easily upset, which only gets worse as others try to help them. They are also easily aggravated or annoyed if someone wants to talk to them, and if the request for socializing becomes persistent, then a bipolar disorder patient may get angry easily and frequently.

However, anger is not a symptom of bipolar disorder. It does not mean that any person who gets angry easily and frequently suffers from bipolar disorder. Nevertheless, many studies have found that people suffering from this disorder suffer from frequent bouts of anger, ranging from mild to wild. So while anger is not a symptom of the disorder, it is a symptom that the person is going through a problem.

Patients of bipolar disorder and their friends and family will usually find that there is no special trigger that sets off the anger. Instead, the person may just simply wake up feeling angry or in between a perfectly normal conversation may suddenly erupt over the smallest of things. In other instances, though, the patient may be sensitive to certain triggers or actions that are likely to invoke an episode of anger. It is also possible for such people to significantly over-react in a very angry fashion to an event that others may just find inconvenient or irritating.

A study done by the Alicia Koplowitz Foundation in Madrid, Spain, in 2012 found that people who suffer from bipolar disorder do exhibit higher episodes of aggression as compared to people who do not have any mood disorder. The study also found that people with bipolar who are not getting any treatment or who are experiencing a particularly severe mood swing, are more likely to go through prolonged periods of irritability and aggression as well. Their anger turns into rage much faster than in people who do not suffer from any mood disorder or who are getting treatment for bipolar already.

These episodes of anger and aggression are believed to be linked to the chemical imbalances that occur in the brain due to the disease and most people who suffer from bipolar disorder need to take medications to correct the chemical imbalances in the brain.

Can Anger Be Caused As A Side Effect Of Bipolar Disorder Medications?

One of the main ways of treating bipolar disorder is through prescription medications. Doctors begin by prescribing several types of medications and mood stabilizers, such as lithium. Lithium is known to effectively treat the symptoms of bipolar disorder and it also helps in correcting the chemical imbalance in the brain that has caused the disorder to begin with. While some people who are taking lithium tend to report an increase in the episodes of anger and irritability, this is generally not considered to be a side effect of lithium or of any of the other medications that are used in treating bipolar disorder.

However, this is not to say that there are no side effects of lithium. Some of the side effects of lithium and other similar mood stabilizers can include.

  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unintentional weight loss

It is believed that the fluctuations in emotions are due to the body adjusting to the new chemicals of the medications. This is why it is important that you do not stop taking the prescribed medications even if you notice any new symptoms. Without discussing with your doctor, it will be harmful to suddenly stop taking your medications. In fact, if you suddenly stop your medicines, you may experience an unexpected mood swing and an increased risk of side effects as well.

Notice How Your Anger Is Impacting Your Life

It is absolutely okay to be angry. Everyone gets angry and upset from time to time and anger is a normal and healthy reaction to a situation that has happened to you. However, uncontrollable anger or anger that eventually stops you from socializing and interacting with others is a problem. So if you feel so that your anger has become too strong that it has started having an effect on your relationships with family, friends, loved ones, and even colleagues, then it might be time you consult a doctor.

Your anger or irritability might be having an impact on your life if you start noticing the following.

Family And Friends Avoid Having Any Discussion With You. No relationship is without its share of arguments. However, if you find that your family and loved ones are not willing to engage in any kind of intense discussion with you, then it is likely that they are scared of your anger and your reaction.

Your Friends Start Avoiding You. While once you were the center of every party, you are now no longer invited to parties and night outs with friends. When you start having frequent displays of your anger with friends, then after a while they will start avoiding you and stop inviting you to planned events.

You Are Suffering At Work. Irritability or anger at your workplace will make it difficult for you to get along with your colleagues and also bring the wrath of your superiors. If you notice that you are being counseled or reprimanded about your recent behavior and attitude, then it is time to think about how you are handling your emotions.

Do not be afraid to ask for help. If you get diagnosed with bipolar disorder, share the same with your family and friends so that they can help you during an episode rather than abandon you.

Manage Your Anger

If you find yourself frequently becoming angry or irritated, then it is important that apart from your medications, you also learn how to cope and manage your emotions. This will help improve your relationships and also your quality of life.

There are certain things you can do that will help you manage your mood swings. These include.

Identify Your Triggers. It is very important that you start understanding what kind of people, events, and requests, cause you to become very upset. Make a list of these triggers as you experience them and try to recognize what triggers make you most angry and then focus on ignoring them or learn to cope with them.

Do Not Forget Your Medications. If you suffer from bipolar disorder, it is absolutely important that you take proper treatment for the condition. Taking medications for bipolar disorder will help you experience lesser emotional mood swings and they will be less severe in nature as well. Once your doctor designs a treatment plan for you, you must follow it. You will yourself notice how it helps you maintain and control your mood swings.

Get Therapy. Apart from taking the medications for bipolar disorder, many doctors also recommend that bipolar patients undergo cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps bipolar patients express their feelings, concerns, and thoughts. The focus of this type of therapy is to learn to be productive in spite of the disorder you have and to find ways in which you can manage the side effects of the disorder and medications.

Have A Support System In Place. Having your friends and family around you and making them aware of your condition will help you immensely. You must explain to your loved ones that you are experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder and together you can manage your mood swings and its side effects in an efficient manner.


It is important to take care of yourself, especially if you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Do not miss your doctor and therapy appointments, take all your medications that have been prescribed, and remain an active participant during the therapy sessions. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and exercising regularly will also help you manage your anger and mood swings better.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 6, 2019

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