Risky Behavior and Bipolar Disorder – Throwback

risky behavior and bipolar disorder

Todays Throwback is from July 14, 2014

Risky Behavior and Bipolar Disorder

One of the first things I learned when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder is that those of us who have the disease are more likely to pursue risky behavior. Some examples are excessive spending, gambling, drugs and alcohol abuse, unsafe sex and other sexual indiscretions, reckless driving, suddenly quitting a job, and many more. You may have experienced one of these behaviors, or like me, most of the above. I’ve been a naughty boy over the years. Risky behavior has been known to be a symptom of bipolar for some time, but, up until now it has not been understood why this occurs.

A study by The University of Manchester and Liverpool has shown that circuits in the brain involved in pursuing and relishing rewarding experiences are more strongly activated in people with bipolar disorder – guiding them towards risky behavior and away from safer ones. Researchers used brain imaging to identify neural pathways that are responsible for the symptoms of the disorder.

The Study

Here’s the technical stuff. Participants in the study played a game of Roulette in which they made safe or risky gambles. The researchers measured their brain activity throughout using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Their findings revealed a dominance of the brain’s “pleasure center” which drives us to seek out and pursue rewards, responding to them automatically – before conscious awareness kicks in. This ancient brain area, called the nucleus accumbens, was more strongly activated in people with bipolar disorder compared to a healthy control group.

Another key difference arose in the prefrontal cortex, a recently evolved area of the brain which is associated with conscious thought. It gives us the ability to coordinate our various drives and impulses – such as quelling our urges when faced with risky decisions – allowing people to make decisions that are less immediately rewarding but better in the long run. The researchers found that for control participants, their prefrontal cortex guided them towards safe gambles and away from risky ones. For the people with bipolar disorder the balance swung the other way: greater neural activity for risky gambles.

Professor Wael El-Deredy, who was involved with the study said:

The greater buzz that people with bipolar disorder get from reward is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it helps people strive towards their goals and ambitions, which may contribute to the success enjoyed by many people with this diagnosis. However, it comes at a cost: these same people may be swayed more by immediate rewards when making decisions and less by the long-term consequences of these actions.

The Hope

woman paying billsDr. Liam Mason, who was also involved in the study, said: “Understanding how the brain works to regulate the pursuit of goals will help us to design, evaluate and monitor better therapies for bipolar disorder.”

According to Psychology Today, bipolar disorder is one of the oldest known psychological disorders. Though known by many names over the centuries, early descriptions of the disease go back as far as ancient Greece. In 1854, Jean-Pierre Falret first postulated a strong genetic basis. However, only recently has the medical community began to understand the causes of bipolar, rather than just the treatments. As my regular readers know, I’ve been researching many studies related to bipolar disorder and depression and become more optimistic every day. The more I learn, the more I believe, we are living in amazing times

The University of Manchester
Psychology Today

7 comments on Risky Behavior and Bipolar Disorder – Throwback

  1. Enlightening. My doc talks about a lack of impulse control, dating right back to the ages of 4 – 5 years old. I never realized in tied in with the reward from the risky behavior. Makes me understand myself differently. Thanks for that Bradley

  2. Now I understand the reason behind why it is so difficult to control myself when hypomanic. The “pleasure center” is in overdrive battling for dominance over reason. Reason hasn’t always won. I wonder if my now being aware of what is biologically behind this risk taking will help me better overcome it or at least tone it down. It will be an interesting experiment the next time I’m hypomanic if I can keep my self awareness intact. Thanks for the info, Bradley.

  3. Great article,Bradley. Sad to say I haven’t been doing great on reading blogs for the past while, but you were specifically on my “to-read” list that I had made for today. You always have the best posts, integrating real-world research with your personal take on bipolar disorder. Also, I’m not sure when you made the changes, but the visual theme to your blog has really changed and it looks absolutely amazing, very, very professional. As to today’s post, I could really relate, as I swing toward engaging in risky behavior quite often (okay, more often than not). Big hugs to you, my friend, on all your success! <3

    1. Welcome back, Rosa. You’ve been missed. Wow, so many compliments. Glad you like the new look. As I was creating it I fell in love with it. I’m honored to be on your reading list today and am glad you connected with it.

  4. These glowing comments (all well-deserved) are hard acts to follow, matey! 😉

    I too enjoy how you research relevant topics and tie them into your life.

    I can’t remember if you take lithium. Something tells me you don’t, but if you do, I think you’d be interested in a book I just finished about the pioneer doctor who discovered the use of lithium for manic depression, and its history. Here’s the Amazon link:

    “Finding Sanity: John Cade, lithium and the taming of bipolar disorder ”



    The Captain

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