Many people wonder: is bipolar hereditary? The answer is likely yes. Bipolar disorder (once better known as manic depression) is a common mental health condition that affects an estimated 2.8% of all adults in the US in any given year. Its symptoms can mimic those of both depression and anxiety disorders. 

Bipolar disorder symptoms are characterized by dramatic mood swings — from a high energy/anxiety state of mind, that’s wildly unfocused (in a manic state) to very low, dark moods (depressive episodes).

How long each extreme mood lasts, in part, depends on whether you’re dealing with Bipolar 1 (more severe and longer-lasting manic/depressive states) or Bipolar II (mood swings are less extreme, but occur more frequently).

There is evidence that genetic factors are a large contributor to bipolar disorder. Though the reasons why are still unclear, many people with bipolar have close relatives who’ve also been diagnosed with the same or other mood disorders. It’s natural, then, to want an answer to the question is bipolar disorder genetic

Read on to learn everything we know about bipolar heredity.  

Genetics and Bipolar Disorder

Since bipolar disorder does seem to run in families, researchers and doctors do believe it’s likely that the mental health condition might be influenced by genes. While the direct inheritance patterns are still a bit unclear, it’s thought that genetic variants in different genes combined in a specific order might increase the likelihood of someone developing bipolar disorder.

How is Bipolar Disorder Passed Genetically?

Just like obesity, alcoholism, diabetes, and many other physical and mental health conditions, it’s likely that some people might be more genetically predisposed to bipolar disorder than others. 

Genetic predispositions or susceptibility are based on genetic makeup that increases the likelihood of developing a particular disease. Some research has indeed linked an identifiable familial component to the psychiatric disorder. 

Similar to the discovery that BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer, as we try to determine “is bipolar disorder genetic”, we must explore potential connections between certain candidate genes or genetic makeup and the condition itself. 

Still, we don’t truly understand the exact genetic variation of bipolar disorder that might be inherited. Thus, our complete understanding of bipolar hereditary is still developing.  

For those wondering is bipolar hereditary, the following statistics can shed some light when trying to determine the likelihood of someone having bipolar disorder:

  • One parent has bipolar disorder = child has a 10% – 25% chance of developing it
  • Both parents have bipolar disorder = child has a 10% – 50% chance of developing it
  • Non-identical twin has bipolar disorder = sibling has a 10% – 25% chance of developing it
  • Identical twin has bipolar disorder = 40% – 70% chance of developing it

Does Bipolar Disorder Skip a Generation?

If the answer to the question is bipolar disorder genetic is likely yes, then the next question is, can it skip a generation

The answer to this question is also thought to be most likely yes. Experts do believe that bipolar disorder can skip generations. It’s also thought that a combination of environment, childhood nurturing, and genetic makeup can all increase the chance of developing bipolar disorder.

“People can either acquire bipolar disorder as a genetic predisposition or as the result of environmental triggers, but typically both nature and nature are involved in its development. Treatment for bipolar disorder includes therapy and medication management.”

Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice PsyD., LPC

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

To truly understand bipolar disorder, we shouldn’t solely focus on answering the question is bipolar genetic. We also need to look at the specific causes associated with the disorder. 

It’s incredibly important to point out that the exact cause of the bipolar disorder isn’t fully understood. That said, we do think there are probably multiple contributing factors that can cause bipolar disorder. Some may include:

  • Genetic risk factors
  • Brain structure and/or function 
  • Stress

Bipolar Disorder Risk Factors

The greatest known risk factor for developing bipolar disorder is having a first-degree relative who also has it. This could be a parent or sibling. Also worth noting is that periods of high stress or traumatic events may increase the risk of a bipolar episode.

Finally, it’s largely believed that both genetic and environmental factors combined probably increase the chance of developing bipolar disorder. Some risk factors might include:

  • Extreme stress 
  • Trauma or abuse
  • Chemical imbalance
  • Social factors
  • Substance use or misuse
  • Childbirth
  • Traumatic head injury — brain injury or severe concussion

“Bipolar disorder risk factors include emotional instability in a primary caregiver, trauma, abuse, neglect, drugs/alcohol, a low sense of worth, little to no natural resources, low community involvement, and low levels of environmental stimulation.”

Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice PsyD., LPC

Finally, there are multiple complications associated with untreated bipolar disorder that should be pointed out. These can include obesity, suicidal thoughts, diabetes, heart conditions, substance abuse, and a marked decrease in overall quality of life, including loss of income, strained family relationships, or loss of family or friends.

Finding Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder can go undiagnosed for many years. It’s also often misdiagnosed as depression or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Typically, the manic nature of a bipolar episode can be a tell-tale sign of the condition. Mania can present as a frantic or hyper state of mind and/or abnormally high energy levels, elevated moods, and extreme changes in behavior.

Commonly, it’s a family member or close friend who recognizes any extreme changes in mood. For a proper diagnosis, you should make an appointment with your primary care physician. They can rule out any other physical medical or mental health conditions and give you a referral to a licensed mental health provider.

Through a questionnaire, examination, and discussion, a bipolar disorder diagnosis can be given according to criteria established for bipolar and related disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). So, how to treat bipolar disorder?

A treatment plan for bipolar disorder typically includes bipolar medication, individual counseling, group support, family counseling, self care techniques, and online therapy for co-occurring conditions or risky behaviors like alcoholism, drug addiction, weight gain, shopping, sex, or gambling addictions.

You can find a mental health professional by getting a referral from your doctor, a friend, a family member, or even an employer. The most important step is to make that first call. It’s not uncommon for someone to dismiss a manic or depressive episode as something that was just temporary after their mood shifts back to a more normal state. With bipolar disorder, though, manic and depressive episodes will always return. They can be the result of being triggered, or it may simply be due to a recurring chemical imbalance in the brain. 

It’s important to not only get proper treatment and therapy for bipolar disorder, but to also establish and maintain a positive support group that can help you navigate the challenges of your condition.

Medically reviewed by: Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

Reviewed On: April 26, 2022