10 Most Common Triggers for Bipolar Disorder Episodes

Bipolar Disorder Episodes

Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings and significant changes in energy and activity levels. Affecting close to 6 million American adults, bipolar disorder involves manic episodes and depressive episodes that shift in a cyclical pattern. These mood changes can appear seemingly out of the blue, however, there is a wide array of things that can trigger an episode or worsen symptoms. Stress is an underlying factor in many of the most common triggers for mood episodes in bipolar disorder, according to research in the Journal of Affective Disorders. The following life events and environmental factors ramp up stress and are common triggers of bipolar episodes.

Stress is an underlying factor in many of the most common triggers for mood episodes in bipolar disorder. Click To Tweet


Bipolar Trigger #1. Major arguments or breakups

Having bipolar disorder can make it challenging to maintain stable relationships at home, at work, and at school. Symptoms associated with bipolar disorder, such as irritability, risky behavior, and inappropriate behavior can lead to marital conflict or spats with coworkers or classmates. Research suggests that relationship troubles can be so distressing for people with bipolar disorder that it can lead to suicidal ideation. Going through a breakup, separation, or divorce can produce prolonged stress that triggers bipolar episodes.

Bipolar Trigger #2. Drinking and using drugs

Having bipolar disorder raises the chances of self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, leading to a high rate of addiction in people with the condition. According to a 2015 review in the Journal of Affective Disorders, using addictive drugs or alcohol may increase the duration of manic or depressive episodes. In particular, the review concluded that cannabis use may cause or exacerbate manic episodes. In addition, drugs and alcohol cause changes in the brain and in the way the brain functions which may contribute to bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Trigger #3. Antidepressants and other meds

You may be surprised to learn that some medications can trigger bipolar episodes. Research in the journal Bipolar Disorder shows that about 25%-33% of people with bipolar disorder are vulnerable to antidepressant-induced manic episodes. In some people with unipolar depression, treatment with antidepressants increases the risk of a subsequent manic episode, according to a 2015 study in BMJ Open. Other medications that have been associated with manic symptoms include stimulants used to treat ADD/ADHD, thyroid pills, appetite suppressants, and corticosteroids.

Bipolar Trigger #4. Lack of sleep

Disrupted sleep can wreak havoc on mood stability in people with bipolar disorder. Shift work, all-night study sessions, and jet lag can all increase the risk of mood episodes. Failing to get adequate sleep exacerbates the severity of manic and depressive episodes, especially in women, according to a study that spanned 12 years in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Bipolar Trigger #5. Consuming caffeine

Drinking coffee, energy drinks, or other caffeinated beverages may trigger manic symptoms in people with bipolar disorder, according to a 2021 systematic review. The researchers suggest that because caffeine is a stimulant, it may have a direct impact on moods, alter sleeping patterns, and interfere with the way the body metabolizes medications used to treat the condition.

Bipolar Trigger #6. Death of a loved one

The grief and stress of losing someone can be overwhelming. In some people, this can lead to “funeral mania” or “bereavement mania,” according to research in Frontiers in Psychiatry.

Bipolar Trigger #7. Seasonal weather changes

In some people with bipolar disorder, there is a seasonal pattern associated with mood episodes. A systematic review of scientific studies on seasonality and bipolar disorder found that manic episodes peak in the spring and summer months and depressive episodes are more likely to occur in early winter. Experts suggest that the number of daylight hours, the intensity of sunlight, and altered sleep patterns may contribute to mood changes.

Bipolar Trigger #8. Postpartum

For women with bipolar disorder, the weeks and months after delivering a baby are linked with an increased chance of mood episodes, according to research in Women’s Health. This study cites previous research showing that 50% of women with bipolar disorder experienced a mood episode postpartum. The birth of a child can also impact fathers who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Although there is a scarcity of research on paternity, one study in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that fathers with bipolar disorder are more likely to experience mania, hypomania, or mixed episodes in the postpartum period compared with the general population.

Bipolar Trigger #9. Hormonal fluctuations

A woman’s menstrual cycle may also play a role in mood episodes. A 2019 review in the British Journal of Pharmacology shows that the hormonal changes associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) also affect bipolar disorder symptoms. These hormonal fluctuations are linked to an increase in depressive episodes, a decrease in manic episodes, a worsening of symptoms, and more rapid cycling.

Bipolar Trigger #10. Losing your job

The emotional and financial strain that comes with job loss can increase the chances of a bipolar episode. Unfortunately, bipolar disorder is associated with challenges in the workplace and high rates of unemployment. In fact, nearly 60% of people with bipolar disorder were unemployed, according to a survey by the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association.


Knowing what triggers your bipolar mood episodes is one of the first keys to managing them. Learning stress-reduction techniques and coping skills through psychotherapy can be very beneficial in decreasing triggers. In addition, adopting brain-healthy habits; making sleep a priority; and eliminating alcohol, drugs, and caffeine can help reduce the risk of episodes and decrease their severity.

Bipolar disorder, depression, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Can you please send this whole article about bipolar dissorder and the part about QEEG in Spanish? I have a relative in South America , a 24 years old niece that has been going through these symptoms for a long time,her parents will be interested in know about thes e and about the clinic, thank you.

    Comment by Flor Almora — October 24, 2022 @ 4:58 AM

  2. MY 24-YEAR-OLD GRANDSON Suffers from BiPolar disorder. He lives in Springfield Mo. where help for him can be difficult to find. He will be visiting me in SO. Fla in december. Any ideas how he can be helped????

    Comment by Barbara Klarich — October 24, 2022 @ 7:09 AM

  3. I recognize everyone of these triggers, however I never tried drugs or alcohol and the postpartum depression wasn't recognized in 1968 which led to an overdose of aspirin. I have tinnitus because of that. I have completely changed the way I eat now with only salmon (fishes), fruits and vegetables (no red meat). Sugar and caffeine are kept to the bear minimum. I remain stable.

    Comment by Mrs. Ferris S.Whitfield — October 24, 2022 @ 9:21 AM

  4. excellent article!

    Comment by Doug Morris — August 22, 2023 @ 10:44 AM

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