Can You Manage Bipolar Disorder Without Medication?

Woman with bipolar disorder looking out window.

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An estimated 4.4% of adult Americans experience bipolar disorder at some point in their lives. If you're one of them, you may feel like you're on an emotional roller coaster, with highs and lows that are hard to control. But you also might be hesitant to treat your bipolar disorder with medication because of its potential side effects, leading you to wonder how to 'fix' bipolar disorder without meds.

Unfortunately, bipolar disorder has no cure, but it can be effectively managed with treatment. While medication is often an essential part of this treatment plan, taking prescription drugs isn't the only way to help ease bipolar disorder symptoms. There are several non-medicinal things you can also do to help manage your bipolar disorder.

What You Should Know About Bipolar Disorder Medications

Not taking bipolar disorder medications as prescribed can lead to significant risks to your health and well-being, including an increased risk of hospitalizations and suicide attempts. Therefore, the below strategies should be considered complementary, working alongside other interventions such as medication and therapy.

Mental Health Activities for Bipolar Disorder

If you are living with bipolar disorder, you may find that there certain mental health therapies and activities can help improve your mood, cognition, and overall functioning. Some options backed by research include:

  • Art therapy: Art therapy can be a creative and therapeutic way for someone with bipolar disorder to express their emotions while also being low-risk and high-benefit.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps identify and change negative thoughts and behavior patterns. It can reduce the risk of bipolar disorder relapse, improve depression symptoms and mania severity, and promote healthier psychosocial function.
  • Journaling: Journaling can help you track your moods and identify triggers for your symptoms. The two main types of journaling used in psychotherapy are expressive writing (writing down your innermost thoughts and feelings) and gratitude journaling (writing down things you are thankful for).
  • Problem-solving: Doing problem-solving exercises can help you learn how to deal effectively with stressful situations. One study of 30 years of research noted that when part of family-focused therapy, learning problem-solving skills can help speed recovery from mood episodes and reduce bipolar symptom severity.
  • Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing can help reduce stress and promote feelings of calmness and well-being. People with bipolar disorder have a higher risk of being exposed to trauma and developing post-trauma symptoms, with relaxation techniques helping to reduce some post-trauma effects, such as by reducing nightmare frequency and severity.

Lifestyle Changes for Bipolar Disorder

In addition to engaging in positive mental health practices like the ones mentioned above, making lifestyle changes can help you better manage your bipolar disorder. Some lifestyle changes that may be beneficial include:

  • Sticking to a routine: Creating a daily routine and sticking to it can help to stabilize your moods. Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day, eat regular meals, and schedule regular times for exercise and relaxation.
  • Eating a healthy diet: Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help improve your overall mood and energy levels. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein in your diet.
  • Exercising regularly: Exercise provides many mental health benefits. It can help improve your mood, sleep, and energy levels, for instance. A moderate amount of exercise is the best way to start—aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs: Alcohol and drugs can worsen bipolar symptoms. If you are struggling with substance abuse, it is important to seek professional help.
  • Managing stress: Stress can trigger bipolar symptoms. Stress also leads to inflammation, further contributing to bipolar disorder. Learning how to manage stress through relaxation techniques, exercise, and healthy coping mechanisms can help prevent episodes of mania or depression.

Managing a Manic Episode

If you are experiencing a manic episode, there are a few things that you can do. Below are some actions you can take "in the moment" to help manage a manic episode:

  • Remove yourself from the situation: If you are in a situation that is a trigger for your symptoms, it may be helpful to remove yourself from the situation.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce stress and promote feelings of calmness.
  • Engage in physical activity: Physical activity can help release endorphins, among other benefits, which can improve your mood. Activities to consider doing include aerobic exercise, yoga, and Tai Chi.
  • Talk to someone you trust: Talking to a friend or family member about what you are experiencing can help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. In addition, it is common in a manic episode to not be able to accurately assess your behavior. Using a trusted loved one's input can be important.
  • Identify your triggers: If you can identify what triggers your manic episode, you can try to avoid these triggers in the future.

Potential Risks of Not Taking Your Bipolar Medication

If you have bipolar disorder and don't take your medication, you may be at risk of developing serious complications. Below are some of the potential risks associated with not taking medication for bipolar disorder:

  • You may experience more severe symptoms: If you don't take your medication for bipolar disorder, you may experience more severe symptoms. This can lead to a greater risk of hospitalizations or an increased risk of suicide attempts.

Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

  • Your symptoms may be more difficult to manage: Without medication, your symptoms may be more difficult to manage. This can make it harder to live a normal, productive life. In addition, there is some evidence that untreated mood episodes may become harder to treat over time.
  • You may be at a higher risk for substance abuse: If you don't take medication for bipolar disorder, you may also be at a higher risk for substance abuse. This is to some degree because people with bipolar disorder often self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.
  • Your relationships may suffer: Bipolar disorder can put a significant strain on your relationships. If you don't take your medication for the condition, you may find it hard to maintain healthy relationships with the people in your life.

Medications for Bipolar Disorder

While the above strategies can help you cope with some symptoms of bipolar disorder, medication is often an essential part of the long-term management of this mental health condition.

Medication can help stabilize your moods and prevent episodes of mania or depression.

A mental health professional can help find the best medication for you. Medications that are commonly used to treat bipolar disorder include:

  • Mood stabilizers: Mood stabilizers such as lithium can help stabilize your moods and prevent episodes of mania or depression.
  • Antipsychotics: Antipsychotic medications such as quetiapine and olanzapine can be helpful in treating psychotic symptoms and mania.
  • Antidepressants: Antidepressant medications such as fluoxetine and sertraline can be used to treat depression, although these need to be used with caution as they can potentially trigger mania or worsen mood cycling.
  • Anti-anxiety medications: Anti-anxiety medications such as lorazepam and alprazolam can be used to treat anxiety and sleep issues.

Can Bipolar Disorder Go Away Naturally?

Bipolar disorder is a chronic, lifelong condition. However, with proper management, people with bipolar disorder can live healthy and productive lives.

If you are not currently taking medication for bipolar disorder, it is important to seek professional help. A mental health professional can help create a bipolar disorder treatment plan that is right for you.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.