Mood Swings vs. Bipolar Disorder: Where Is the Threshold?

Understanding the Difference Between Mood Swings and Bipolar Disorder

Have you ever heard bipolar being used as an adjective? For instance, “You’re acting so bipolar today!” is something you might have heard someone say. However, having bipolar disorder and being moody are two completely different things. But where does one draw the fine line between the two? 

Several key factors help distinguish between daily mood swings and bipolar disorder. Let's learn about the difference between mood swings and bipolar disorder.

Mood Swings vs. Bipolar Disorder
Mood Swings vs. Bipolar Disorder

Overview of Mood Disorders

We are all exposed to daily fluctuations in mood depending on the situations we face in life, but these fluctuations are normal and differ from mood disorders, which are characterized by severe mood fluctuations that last for long periods and affect various details of our lives, behavior, and productivity.

Bipolar disorder is a significant mood disorder characterized by severe fluctuations in mood and behavior, which include depression, lethargy, and hopelessness at times, and hyperactivity and mania at other times. Proper treatment and careful follow-up will help you control the symptoms of this disorder and move on with your life normally.

Mood disorders occur commonly in children and adolescents. People with these disorders show intense anger and strong reactions to simple and ordinary things, and have difficulty regulating and controlling their strong emotions.

Mood disorders negatively affect your personal life, especially when you neglect them and do not receive appropriate support and treatment. 

Mood Swings or Bipolar Disorder?

Mood swings can be confused with bipolar disorder, but their severity and length are important factors in the diagnosis. If you have bipolar disorder, you are likely to experience severe mood swings. Several key factors help distinguish between mood swings and bipolar disorder. Let's find out!


Having mood swings absent of bipolar disorder diagnosis is a standalone issue. On the other hand, mood swings are just one of many symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder symptoms and treatments can be quite varied. Impulsive behavior, extreme euphoria, insomnia, and psychosis are symptoms of bipolar that are not normally present in someone with general mood swings. Treating these symptoms often involves intensive therapy and medication. Meanwhile, regular mood swings may require neither.

Length of Mood Changes

When someone is experiencing moodiness, their mood may switch throughout, say, a day or a span of a few hours. During these mood changes, there’s often a trigger. Maybe they’re not feeling well, didn’t sleep enough the previous night, are PMSing, are arguing with a loved one, or recently got presented with bad news, hence their moodiness.

In bipolar disorder, a mood change can last weeks or even months. And while there can be triggers for bipolar mood swings, these mood changes usually appear out of thin air and are very difficult to control. Unfortunately, one can’t exactly know when the next mood change will happen until it does.

Depressive Episodes

Regular moodiness may involve feelings of sadness. However, moodiness doesn’t involve feelings of depression- or at least dangerous levels of depression. Even if there is a level of depression present in a moody individual, there’s usually some type of cause or trigger behind it.

In bipolar disorder, the individual not only goes through long periods of euphoria and high energy, but they also experience depressive episodes that come out of the blue. These depressive episodes can be quite intense and very serious. In turn, individuals diagnosed with bipolar are at a high risk of self-harm and/or suicide and, thus, require professional help.

Symptom Severity

Mood swings are pretty harmless and don’t involve severe symptoms. Sure, being moody may get you in trouble at work or have your partner upset at you for the rest of the day, but other than that, being a bit moody isn’t a huge disadvantage in terms of your overall functioning in life. However, it is something worth working on.

Bipolar disorder, in comparison, involves severe symptoms. The symptoms, if gone unchecked, can cost you your job, your relationship, your house, custody of your kids, the savings in your bank account, or even your life. This condition isn’t something you can manage with a good night’s rest; medication and therapy are critical to get these intense symptoms under control.

Read Here: How to Overcome Mood Swings Naturally


It’s evident that mood swings and bipolar disorder are quite distinctive once you take a look at the differences. In bipolar disorder, there are more symptoms, symptoms are more severe, mood changes typically last longer, and one will cycle between highs and lows. Getting a diagnosis from a medical professional is still critical.

If you suffer from any type of mood disorder (bipolar disorder or mood swings), do not hesitate to contact your psychiatrist, who will work to help you get rid of the symptoms of these disorders and return to living your life normally. 

The most important treatment methods used are psychotherapy and medications.

The primary goal of psychotherapy is to help you recognize unhealthy behaviors, feelings, and thoughts, and teach you how to deal with and overcome them. Your psychiatrist can also add you to a support program that suits your condition.

Doctors use several types of medications to treat mood disorders, and the medication used varies depending on the type of disorder and the severity of the condition. A psychiatrist usually prescribes antidepressant medications to treat depressive disorder and depressive states in people with bipolar disorder, while mood-altering medications are prescribed to control mood swings. 

Read Also: Bipolar Disorder Treatment Methods: Medication and Psychotherapy

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