What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

People often think that bipolar disorder develops when people do not know how to control themselves. This is rarely the case. There are several different contributing factors that can cause bipolar disorder. While bipolar disorder can cause a person to behave erratically and irrationally, it is not due to a lack of control.

There are several reasons why a person may develop bipolar disorder. Understanding how the disorder developed is a key factor in the treatment of a patient’s condition.


Bipolar disorder is most often developed as a result of genetic influence. Genetics play can major role in the development and onset of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder tends to run in families. This means that a person has a higher risk of developing bipolar disorder if he or she has a direct family member with bipolar disorder. A direct family member could be a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle or grandparent.

It has been found that a person may be at higher risk of bipolar disorder if there is a family history of other mood disorders. Such mood disorders include depression, dysthymia, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder or postpartum disorder.

Despite the strong genetic component that seems to be present in many cases, genetics are not the only contributing factor to the onset of bipolar disorder.

Environmental Influences

A person’s environment plays a major role in the onset of bipolar disorder. For example, a child who is brought up in an unstable environment is at higher risk of developing bipolar disorder. Factors that may deem an environment unstable include:

  • Cases of neglect
  • Physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Living in a chaotic environment
  • Disciplinarian parents
  • Lack of safe space to express self in a healthy way
  • Malnutrition

A person can also develop bipolar disorder based on his or her environment as an adult. There are several factors that can trigger a case of bipolar disorder, including:

  • Difficulty adjusting to a new environment or living conditions
  • Difficulty coping with a life event, such as grief, a breakup, or job loss
  • Substance abuse or alcoholism
  • Witnessing or having to deal with a traumatic event

Biological Factors

Along with genetic and environmental influences, there are biological influences that can contribute to the onset of bipolar disorder. Such biological factors include:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Malnutrition
  • Substance abuse or alcoholism
  • Experiencing a psychotic episode
  • Hormonal dysfunction

Neurochemical imbalances are a major contributing factor in the onset of bipolar disorder. Many cases of bipolar disorder tend to exhibit a similar trend in their neurochemistry. That is altered levels of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. The imbalance of these three chemicals cause many symptoms found in bipolar disorder.

How Do These Causal Factors Affect One Another?

In most cases, one of these circumstances alone is not sufficient to cause bipolar disorder. That means that often at least two causal factors are present.

For example, a person may be genetically pre-disposed to have bipolar disorder, but if they grew up in a stable home where they learned healthy coping strategies for stress, it is less likely for a case of bipolar disorder will develop. The risk is even lower if they do not suffer from biological factors that may trigger the disorder.

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