The most effective treatment for bipolar disorder is a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Most people take more than one drug, like a mood-stabilizing drug and an antipsychotic, benzodiazepine, or antidepressant. However, it's important that treatment be ongoing -- even after you feel better -- to keep mood symptoms under control.
People with bipolar disorder often have cycles of elevated and depressed mood that fit the description of "manic depression." When a person's illness follows this classic pattern, diagnosing bipolar disorder is relatively easy.
But bipolar disorder can be sneaky. Symptoms can defy the expected manic-depressive sequence. Infrequent episodes of mild mania or hypomania can go undetected. Depression can overshadow other aspects of the illness. And substance abuse can cloud the picture.
After remission from an acute episode of bipolar disorder, a person is at an especially high risk for relapse for about six months. Thus, continuation and maintenance of ongoing therapy is often recommended.
Anyone who has experienced two or more manic or hypomanic episodes generally is considered to have lifetime bipolar disorder. That person should have maintenance therapy to minimize the risk for future episodes. Once your doctor has helped stabilize the moods of the acute phase of the disorder (either a manic or depressive episode), drug therapy is usually continued indefinitely -- sometimes at lower doses.
Remember this: Even if you have been without bipolar symptoms for several months, do not stop taking your medications. Your doctor may lower your doses, but discontinuation of medications will put you at risk for recurrence of bipolar symptoms.