Mood swings can happen for many reasons and do not always indicate a serious health problem. However, severe mood swings can affect a person’s quality of life, and they should seek help.
Most people experience mood swings from time to time. However, when mood swings become chronic, they can affect a person’s health, relationships, and quality of life. The proper treatment can help.
A wide range of medical conditions can cause rapid mood swings. This article will examine some of the more common potential causes.
Addiction is a disease that causes a person to become physically and psychologically dependent on certain substances, including alcohol, prescription drugs, or recreational drugs, such as cocaine.
Addiction often leads a person to seek out drugs despite the harmful effects that the substance has on their body, life, and relationships.
People with addiction may experience mood swings when they are going through withdrawal or experiencing drug cravings. The drugs themselves may also cause mood swings. For example, a 2020 study found that the combination of alcohol and crack cocaine could cause anger and aggression.
People with addiction-related mood swings may seem euphoric one moment and angry or anxious the next. They may also experience physical symptoms of withdrawal, such as headaches or night sweats.
Treatment focuses on helping a person withdraw from the drug, identify coping skills for managing cravings, and addressing the underlying cause of addiction.
Learn more about addiction here.
Seeking help for addiction may seem daunting or even scary, but several organizations can provide support. If you believe that you or someone close to you is showing signs of addiction, you can contact the following organizations for immediate help and advice:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 800-662-4357 (TTY: 800-487-4889)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects a person’s attention span and executive function. They may struggle to pay attention, have trouble organizing their thoughts, or hyperfocus on certain activities. The condition may also cause hyperactivity, difficulty listening, interrupting, or excessive talking.
People with ADHD may have unstable moods. They may seem anxious or excited one moment, then feel angry or restless the next. These mood swings often happen when a person feels distracted or when they are struggling to pay attention. For example, in the middle of a conversation, resisting the impulse to interrupt may make a person with ADHD feel anxious.
Some people with ADHD have mood swings when they feel frustrated or when someone interrupts something they are doing.
It is also important to note that while ADHD presents challenges, with properly and consistently managed medical and therapeutic interventions, the outlook for a person with ADHD is favorable.
Learn more about these and other features of untreated ADHD in adults here.
Bipolar disorder causes a person to cycle between mania and depression.
During periods of mania, a person may feel intense euphoria, make impulsive decisions, take risks, sleep very little, or become aggressive. Depression can cause a person to feel worthless, unmotivated, inattentive, or sleepy.
Before a doctor diagnoses bipolar disorder, the person must have experienced the manic episode for at least 1 week and depressive episode for at least 2 weeks, unless they are displaying signs of rapid cycling. This involves a person having at least four manic, hypomanic, or depressive episodes in a year.
Hypomania is a milder form of mania. It requires a diagnosis of bipolar II disorder. An episode of hypomania may last a few days. People with hypomania feel and function well. Other people may notice changes in mood or activity, while the person with hypomania may not.
Both mania and depression can affect a person’s relationships and make communication with loved ones difficult. There are different types of bipolar disorder, and some people spend more time at one end of the cycle than the other.
Medication for bipolar, such as lithium, can help stabilize moods. People with bipolar can also learn to better control their moods and impulses through therapy and support groups.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a personality disorder that causes unstable moods and relationships. One of the hallmarks is the process of splitting, which means that a person alternates between
Some other symptoms of BPD include intense fear of abandonment, impulsive behavior, such as high-risk impulsive behavior, chronic emptiness, inappropriate anger, an unstable sense of self, a pattern of unstable relationships, self-harm, or suicidal ideation.
People with BPD may resist acknowledging that they have a diagnosis and instead perceive the problem as stemming from others’ mistreatment.
Medication may help with some features of borderline personality, such as depression. However, the gold standard of treatment is therapy tailored to the unique challenges of living with BPD. Three of the
- transference-focused psychotherapy
- dialectical behavior therapy
- mentalization-based therapy
Any medication that affects a person’s mood can also cause mood swings, especially if a person misuses medication or takes it without a prescription. Some examples of medications that might cause mood swings include:
- benzodiazepines (a group of anti-anxiety drugs)
- stimulants, such as Adderall and Ritalin
- sleeping medication
Learn how dialectical behavioral therapy can help treat BPD.
Many people experience mood swings during pregnancy. This is a complex phenomenon, and several factors may play a role, including:
- the stress of pregnancy itself, such as financial concerns or difficulty getting support from a partner
- the physical demands of pregnancy, which can make a person feel sick and which may render everyday tasks exhausting
- blood sugar changes
- physical health issues, such as high blood pressure
- hormonal shifts throughout pregnancy and after delivery
- maltreatment of pregnant people, such as pregnancy discrimination at work
In many cases, lifestyle and self-care strategies, such as getting support from a partner, relaxation exercises and having a supportive medical team can help.
However, mood disorders such as anxiety and depression are common during and after pregnancy. Therapy, support groups, and medication may help when lifestyle changes do not.
Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers, and they relay essential messages about everything from hunger to psychological well-being. Any condition or drugs that affect hormone levels
- low or high testosterone
- steroid use
- thyroid disease
- hormone replacement therapy
- premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
Similarly, high blood glucose may also affect mood, causing depression, aggression, or brain fog. People with uncontrolled diabetes may cycle between high and low blood sugar, making their moods particularly unstable.
To reduce the risk, people should eat regular meals and avoid crash diets, whether or not they have diabetes. People with diabetes should talk to a doctor about diet and lifestyle strategies for regulating blood glucose. Some may need medication.
Exhaustion makes even basic functions, such as preparing food or playing with a child, feel overwhelming. Many people experience mood swings when they feel exhausted.
For example, an exhausted parent might snap at a child for asking too many questions, then try to compensate by being extra playful.
In most cases, the solution is to get more rest. However, some medical conditions may cause intense fatigue even when a person is well-rested. People who feel exhausted no matter how much they sleep should see a doctor.
Mood swings often warn of a treatable underlying medical condition. If the cause of the mood swings relates to a condition, people should look to treat the underlying cause.
It is understandable that some people may feel upset or insulted when others draw attention to these swings. However, it is important to view mood swings as a health issue rather than a personal failure.
Finding a knowledgeable and experienced medical professional and receiving the correct treatment will help.