Causes Of Bipolar Disorder

causes of bipolar disorder site

Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Bipolar disorder (BD) is a mood disorder, characterized by repeated episodes of depression and unnaturally elevated mood along with changes in levels of energy and activity. These episodes may last from several days to weeks. Understanding what are the causes of bipolar disorder may help in better treatment and coping.

As per research the main risk factors and main causes of bipolar disorder involve biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors.

Traits that increase the risk of bipolar disorder.

1. Biological Causes Of Bipolar Disorder

Research 1 attributes the common biological causes of bipolar disorder to the following factors:

I. Genetics

Studies show that monozygotic concordance and incidence of bipolar disorder amongst first-degree relatives elevate the risk of bipolar disorder by 40–70% 1.

II. Brain structure and functioning

Research shows that one of the common causes of bipolar disorder involves structural and functional changes in the brain. Dysfunctions in certain brain regions 2 increase susceptibility to bipolar disorders, such as :

  • Overactivated ventral system
  • Underactivated dorsal system
  • Synaptic pruning dysfunction
  • Dysregulation of dopamine and serotonin receptors
  • Decreased activity in the lingual gyrus

III. Prenatal factors

Prenatal viral infections 3, obstetric complications, and postpartum mood dysfunctions increase the risk of bipolar disorders. Studies specifically link maternal influenza infection and T. gondii infection as common causes of bipolar disorder. Moreover, pregnancy stress and lifestyle habits like maternal substance use (tobacco, alcohol, antidepressants, and recreational drugs) are also associated with bipolar disorder.

IV. Other medical illnesses

A range of chronic physical illness, neurological conditions, and brain injury 4 are associated with the onset of bipolar disorders. These include:

  • Stroke
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • HIV infection
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Porphyria
  • Temporal lobe epilepsy
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Headache disorders and migraine

Read More About Obesity Here

2. Psychological causes of bipolar disorder

The psychological causes of bipolar disorder include 5:

I. Personality traits

People with bipolar disorder usually show the following personality traits 6 and temperaments:

  • Novelty seeking behavior
  • Harm avoidance
  • Self-transcendence
  • Melancholic temperament
  • Decreased self-directedness
  • Low cooperativeness

Read More About Personality Here

II. Neurocognitive function

Several cognitive deficits 7 have been associated with bipolar disorder such as:

  • Working memory
  • Sustained attention
  • Abstract reasoning
  • Visuo-motor abilities
  • Verbal fluency
  • General cognitive function

III. Social cognition

Some deficits in social cognition 5 have also been implicated in the etiology of bipolar disorder. Some of these are:

  • Emotion comprehension
  • Empathy
  • Autobiographical memory, etc.

Read More About Empathy Here

IV. Comorbid psychological disorders

Certain other disorders 8 may also increase the risk of bipolar disorder, such as:

Conditions that can co-exist with bipolar disorder.

3. Social and environmental causes of bipolar disorder

The common psycho-social 9 causes of bipolar disorder include:

  • Experiences of trauma 10
  • Experiences of abuse (like physical, sexual, parental abuse)
  • Negative life events 11 (like the death of a loved one or experiences linked to war, terrorism, etc.)
  • Social support deficits (like experiences of parental abandonment, bullying, etc.)
  • Family difficulties (like dysfunctional family dynamics and experiences of divorce, domestic violence, etc.)


Bipolar disorder (BD) is a crippling mental health condition that leads to drastic changes in thinking, judgment, memory, behavior, and sleep. It negatively impacts our everyday normal functioning, professional lives, and our ability to form relationships.

By gaining a clear understanding of the different causes of bipolar disorder and how these affect us—we will be in a better position to seek help from a mental health professional. Understanding the causes can also enable doctors to conduct accurate diagnoses and devise customized and effective treatment plans for faster recovery.

At A Glance

  1. Bipolar disorder is a psychological condition that involves extreme changes in mood, behavior, and energy levels.
  2. It leads to severe disruptions in daily life and social relationships.
  3. The causes of bipolar disorder are varied—comprising biological psychological, social, and environmental factors.
  4. Gaining a clear understanding of the different causes of bipolar disorder can enable us to seek timely and proper treatment.
  5. Despite the variety of causes, bipolar disorder can be addressed by therapy, medication, and self-help strategies.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What are the spiritual roots of bipolar disorder?

Hyper-religiosity 12 (comprising increased spiritual experiences and a compulsive urge to practice spiritual or religious activities) can be a significant cause of bipolar disorders.

2. What is the link between bipolar disorder and family estrangement?

People with bipolar disorder sometimes display erratic and angry aggression. They also suffer from the inability to fulfill responsibilities or maintain good relationships. This may fray relationships 13 with family members, as they can view the sufferers as malingering or manipulative and break off ties.

3. Does alcohol make bipolar disorder develop early?

Alcoholism can make people susceptible to bipolar disorder. Moreover, bipolar disorder and alcohol use comprise a dangerous combination. Each can worsen the other’s symptoms and trigger conditions like mood swings, depression, violence, and suicide.

👇 References:
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  2. Clark, L., & Sahakian, B. J. (2008). Cognitive neuroscience and brain imaging in bipolar disorder. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience10(2), 153–163. []
  3. Barichello, T., Badawy, M., Pitcher, M. R., Saigal, P., Generoso, J. S., Goularte, J. A., Simões, L. R., Quevedo, J., & Carvalho, A. F. (2016). Exposure to Perinatal Infections and Bipolar Disorder: A Systematic Review. Current molecular medicine16(2), 106–118. []
  4. Forty, L., Ulanova, A., Jones, L., Jones, I., Gordon-Smith, K., Fraser, C., Farmer, A., McGuffin, P., Lewis, C. M., Hosang, G. M., Rivera, M., & Craddock, N. (2014). Comorbid medical illness in bipolar disorder. The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science205(6), 465–472. []
  5. McKinnon, M. C., Cusi, A. M., & MacQueen, G. M. (2013). Psychological factors that may confer risk for bipolar disorder. Cognitive neuropsychiatry18(1-2), 115–128. [][]
  6. Nery, F. G., Hatch, J. P., Glahn, D. C., Nicoletti, M. A., Monkul, E. S., Najt, P., Fonseca, M., Bowden, C. L., Cloninger, C. R., & Soares, J. C. (2008). Temperament and character traits in patients with bipolar disorder and associations with comorbid alcoholism or anxiety disorders. Journal of psychiatric research42(7), 569–577. []
  7. Savitz, J., Solms, M., & Ramesar, R. (2005). Neuropsychological dysfunction in bipolar affective disorder: a critical opinion. Bipolar disorders7(3), 216–235. []
  8. Loftus, J., Scott, J., Vorspan, F., Icick, R., Henry, C., Gard, S., Kahn, J. P., Leboyer, M., Bellivier, F., & Etain, B. (2020). Psychiatric comorbidities in bipolar disorders: An examination of the prevalence and chronology of onset according to sex and bipolar subtype. Journal of affective disorders267, 258–263. []
  9. Dou, W., Yu, X., Fang, H., Lu, D., Cai, L., Zhu, C., Zong, K., Zheng, Y., & Lin, X. (2022). Family and Psychosocial Functioning in Bipolar Disorder: The Mediating Effects of Social Support, Resilience and Suicidal Ideation. Frontiers in psychology12, 807546. []
  10. Johnson, S. L., Cuellar, A. K., & Gershon, A. (2016). The Influence of Trauma, Life Events, and Social Relationships on Bipolar Depression. The Psychiatric clinics of North America39(1), 87–94. []
  11. Aldinger, F., & Schulze, T. G. (2017). Environmental factors, life events, and trauma in the course of bipolar disorder. Psychiatry and clinical neurosciences71(1), 6–17. []
  12. Cook C. C. (2015). Religious psychopathology: The prevalence of religious content of delusions and hallucinations in mental disorder. The International journal of social psychiatry61(4), 404–425. []
  13. Dou, W., Yu, X., Fang, H., Lu, D., Cai, L., Zhu, C., Zong, K., Zheng, Y., & Lin, X. (2022). Family and Psychosocial Functioning in Bipolar Disorder: The Mediating Effects of Social Support, Resilience and Suicidal Ideation. Frontiers in psychology12, 807546. []