The Difference between Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder

Bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder are serious medical illnesses that can disrupt a person’s ability to live a normal life. Both disorders are characterized by unstable moods, relationships and behavior, leaving many to wonder if bipolar and borderline personality disorder are related. Here’s more information about the difference between bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.

Bipolar vs. Borderline Personality Disorder: The Similarities

Bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder (BPD) share many similarities, including:

Mood Changes

— Bipolar disorder causes extreme shifts in mood from depression to mania (a mood characterized by abnormal elation and energy, racing thoughts and speech, a decreased need for sleep, etc.). BPD is also associated with mood changes, causing people to frequently switch between feeling fine to feeling extremely distressed in a matter of minutes.

Impulsive Behavior

— Both bipolar disorder and BPD cause people to act impulsively. These impulsive behaviors can include rash spending sprees, reckless driving, foolish financial investments, risky sexual behaviors, binge eating, substance abuse and self injury.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse

— It’s not uncommon for people with untreated bipolar disorder or BPD to abuse alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with their symptoms. Unfortunately, substance abuse only aggravates symptoms and can hinder or hide a true bipolar or BPD diagnosis.

Bipolar vs. Borderline Personality Disorder: The Differences

Although bipolar disorder and BPD share some similarities, there are some fundamental differences that separate the two. For example, bipolar disorder is a mental (or brain) disorder, while BPD is an emotional disorder. Both disorders are characterized by mood swings, but the length and intensity of these mood swings are different. While a person with bipolar disorder typically endures the same mood for days or weeks at a time, a person with BPD may experience intense bouts of anger, depression, and anxiety that may last only hours, or at most a day. Bipolar mood shifts are distinguished by manic episodes of elation, but BPD mood shifts rarely involve feelings of elation. The cause for these mood shifts also vary. BPD mood shifts are usually a reaction to an environmental stressor (such as an argument), while bipolar mood shifts seem to occur out of nowhere.

Another difference between bipolar and borderline personality disorder is the types of emotions people with these disorders experience. People with BPD may view themselves as fundamentally bad or unworthy and are more prone to feelings of loneliness, emptiness and a severe fear of abandonment.

Bipolar vs. Borderline Personality Disorder: Treatment

One of the most significant differences between bipolar and borderline personality disorder is treatment. The most important part of bipolar treatment is medication, followed by psychotherapy. BPD treatment, on the other hand, focuses on psychotherapy, not medication. Sometimes antidepressant drugs and mood stabilizers are prescribed based on specific target symptoms, but medication for BPD is often used as a last resort. The type of psychotherapy used to treat both disorders also varies. Bipolar disorder patients respond best to traditional therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, while BPD patents tend to respond better to Dialectal Behavior Therapy.

In addition to psychotherapy and pharmaceutical medications, some people have successfully eased their bipolar and borderline personality disorder symptoms with holistic treatments, such as yoga, acupuncture, meditation and herbal/natural supplements.


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21 Responses to “The Difference between Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder”

  1. arron

    hi im arron ive been having mood problems for a long time were my moods shift from being happy then the next angry and sad to having suicidal thoughts and been extremely elated im just wanting to know if u could help me get a diagnosis so i can get on with the rest of my life coz its having an effect on my ability to lead a normal lifr thankyou

  2. Elinah

    Thank you so much! Now i understand the differences as a bipolar person myself. Im a writer for bipolar and depression aswell as other similar illnesses like borderline 🙂 if you would like to visit my site at 🙂

  3. Thea

    Hi I’m not a doctor but a sufferer just like you. I’m slowly doing some more reading on these two disorders. I was diagnosed in 1991 as having clinical depression then in 2002 as bipolar I, then in 2004 as bipolar II. Have been on meds forever but nothing seems to work. Then I remembered reading about Borderline personality Disorder once in a book and thinking I had a lot of the symptoms but never really gave it a second thought because my diagnosis seem to fit at that time. My symptoms seem identical to yours where I have symptoms of both. I see my pdoc this Tuesday and will ask him if I have both which is not uncommon. Will update.

  4. friend

    Arron, You should go and see you doctor and explain what you’ve written here. Only doctors can diagnose, but you are suffering unnecessarily, and you can get help and you can get better. Take care. A friend.

  5. Brian

    I was diagnosed with bdp in the navy in 2003. I was then discharged and given no help with the disorder. A few months later, I was diagnosed with bipolar 2. I am now in the process of filing a disability claim for the bipolar disorder. The military doesn’t consider bpd for disability. I have been in and out of hospitals, on and off of 20 different prescriptions. I haven’t been able to hold a job because of mental stress over the last 10 years. I found something I enjoyed, but after 5 years the business closed. And again 2 years later the same thing… Same job, different business, same result. I’m now in my 8th year of therapy, and am being transferred from the only therapist that has ever helped. I never understood why my brain worked the way it did, until a few years ago. And I am once again stuck in a rut. Both fields I am educated in are dying and I don’t have it in me to go back to school right now. I am surviving on ssdi right now that I have been on since 2005 for my bipolar disability. I can’t find any real answers or any recent posts on the issue of bipolar disorder claims and va disability. I was physicaly injured, given pain medication and anti-depressants. I then suddenly felt the urge to kill myself shortly after starting the anti-depressants. The navy sent me to the mental hospital, and then diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder. They then sent me to rehab for developing a dependancy to the pain meds. I was then discharged with an general under honorable conditions discharge. Im currently getting 10% disabillity for the physical injury that caused the chain of events. I have 10 years of medical and hospital records since my discharge to back up this claim. Not to mention already being on ssdi for the reason im putting in the claim. What if any chance is there of me getting approved of this claim to raise my disability percent?


    Thank u for this information,it has put some things in my brain in order.
    I have been dxd as BPD, Sometimes I think they were right ,other times wrong

  7. Dalilah

    is it possible to have both? i was first diagnosed with depression at 14 then bipolar type two at 18/19, and now coming up to two years later im being told i have BPD. i have mood swings which can last for days or weeks or hours. im impulsive. i go from high functioning to not being able to function. i just want to know whats wrong with me at the end of the day and if there is a cure? i just want a normal life!

  8. David

    Dalilah, yes you can have bipolar and BPD (or EID – Emotional Intensity Disorder as its now called) at the same time; I’m speaking from experience! I have had problems with depression all my life as far back as I can remember; I wrote my first suicide note when I was about 10 years old it was that bad. I tried to commit suicide about 12 years ago after an argument it its only by pure luck that I’m still here now. My Doctor started my treatment after that for what he thought was depression, and Prozac was the first medication they tried – and the side effects sent me suicidal again. It waasn’t until I had a complete breakdown 18 months ago that I was referred to a mental health treatment facility, and to cut a long story short, I have been diagnosed with Bipolar II and EID, and when you look at the “classic” symptoms for both, I have them in spades! There were days I simply couldn’t get out of bed and weeks later days when I just KNEW that I could leap a tall building in a single bound, and days when the sight of roadkill would make me burst into tears with sudden sadness. The treatments are ongoing – with EID I have 60 odd years of learning to undo, and it’s hard! There is still medication involved which is designed to clip the tops off the highs and lows, but the EID is more about knowledge and control – knowing and recognising whats happening and you controlling it, not the other way around. I got my help through a psycologist and through a STEPPS course – it gives you the tools and shows you how to use them, but you have to use them. I’m in my early 60’s, otherwise fit and healthy, so it can happen to anyone, but you can fight your way through it.
    Stay strong and you will make it; its a long trip but as the saying goes, every trip has a beginning.

  9. Tye

    This is for Aaron…. I have a daughter that suffers from Bioplar, Borderline personality disorder, so I do understand what you are going through…. Seek a therapist….She did and they prescribed the correct medication for her. I also work in the mental health field, so seeking professional help will be the best thing for you….. God Bless and Good Luck!!!!!!!!!

  10. dr brijesh pushp

    as u said, u have episodes of happiness & sadness, u may be suffering from cyclothymic disorder. coz happiness is uncommon in BPD.

  11. Kristina

    Brian my name is Kristina i was in the navy and had some really unfortunate things happen to me a psycholgist thought i had symptoms of bpd but said i didnt have it. Some organisations tend to pin mental or emotional disorders on people if things arent going well for them. Ive read your story and im sorry about what happened but you got to believe who you really are and go for it if i believed i was bpd i wouldnt achieve what i have achieved in my life. Sometimes people go through extreme stress and cant get out of it we are all human and have emotions but just stay strong and just do something anything to motivate yourself i wasnt even officially diagnosed with BPD and getting into government work is a challenge for me but i wont give up.

  12. joey

    I have eupd/bpd but sometimes I think bipolar but not as much because im never really happy or will only last a few hours at most then im plunged into dark times with s/ and suicide attempts. But tonight it’s 04.06 and I feel totally awake, really wired, racing thoughts but it’s prob not bipolar as im sure this happens with eupd (that’s my diagnosis).

  13. Casa Palmera

    It would probably be best to consult your primary care physician about this or for help and more information about our services please contact 1-866-768-6719.

  14. Connie davis

    I am bipolar, with disability because of not being stable to consistently hold a job. I did for 35 yrs but I took a turn for the worse. However I can imagine being able to function without my medicine. This article points out that one is a brain disorder (bipolar) and BPD is an emotional disorder. I do think I had emotional disorders when I was young but I worked those out with time. I was able to “talk” out my fears and thoughts but the Bipolar has never responded to “talk” therapy. There are many new meds that help a lot with my condition. i hope you are successful with your Doctor appt. and get the help that WORKS FOR YOU.

  15. Aryanna

    Dear All,
    i ve recently had anxiety treatment, Propanolol, and even though i usually am on the merry side of moods i became severely depressed, inert, no appetite, i even stopped my regular exercise… i am a fitness professional.
    So now, having a personal insight, i really empathize with peoples’ moods. I also understood how strongly our moods are influenced by the biochemistry of the brain, therefore i believe that sometimes our mood swings are caused by what we put in our system, be it food, treatment, drinks or any other substances.
    However, i have noticed from my experience and my clients’ experience that most of us carry a lot of sorrow, fear, frustration and sadness, mostly due to the circumstances and life challenges we face: money, relationships, work, health…
    Depressive or anxious states are of the mind and flesh in the same time, they influence each other greatly, all the time; there is nothing new in this statement but if we really understand the full meaning of it we can do something about it and make life better.
    Each of us is a case; so each of us needs a personalized approach. As Connie says we have to look carefully to ourselves and our lives: what needs talk therapy and what needs medicine, what needs our effort to change the situations and issues that make us fearful, depressed, anxious. I have high anxiety sometimes because of my financial issues and those issues make me depressed other times: i can swallow pills for depression or anxiety, upon the case, do talk therapy for my “electric” anxiety or debilitating depression but the point is that i have to do something for my finances in order to eliminate the CAUSE of my terrible moods. We cannot repress or choose what we feel in certain situations but we can affect the duration and intensity of what we feel, the course of the feeling through different methods: medicine, behavioral or psycho therapies, exercise, nutrition,counseling…
    The ability to affect the course and intensity of our feelings has to be practiced and learnt !
    And as Kristina said, the ability to motivate yourself FROM WITHIN is a very powerful skill because life’s situations and challenges change all the time. Your emotions are trying to tell you something: about your brain’s health, about your life style, your body’s health or about certain aspects of your life that need attention. Body, life are processes, in continuous change, you are not “stuck”; lets try to direct the changes !
    Hope this will help.
    Yours in health,

  16. Fred

    My wife has bipolar 2 but like you guys, according to which doctor she sees they keep swapping the diagnosis from BP2 to BPD interchangeably. This is frustrating for her regarding treatment. The good news – we live in Britain and the health care system (NHS) is superb. This means both prince and paupers both receive the same excellent care free of charge (paid through our higher taxes but well worth it). She is undergoing treatments for both disorders until they can see which one is most effective. I think she has both BP2 and BPD. Time will tell. Reading your comments in the USA helps us to see this is an illness with no borders or class distinction. If anyone is suffering from these things seek help. Don’t suffer in silence. Even if there is no cure at least if you know what the problem is it helps you to make sense of your feelings and mind. You’re not going mad – remember you have an illness. Take care all and thanks for your comments.

  17. Pamela

    I was diagnosed with both bipolar, and borderline personality disorder back in 2008. I’ve been on Lithium treatment for 5 years now, however I still have severe shifts in mood and THEY ARE ALWAYS brought on by a stressor. Even a mild fight with the boyfriend and I blow up and get paranoid that he’s with another woman and call him every name in the book then I calm down. I never remember being “manic” or “depressed” for a period of time unless it was caused by something. I do notice that when I try to go off lithium I get different, mood swings and abnormal behavior. But I have that anyway and maybe only notice because I’m off my medication. This is so confusing, and I dont have insurance so I go to a mental health clinic. They do nothing for me except give me meds, they dont listen to me talk. So how can they diagnose me properly? I live in NJ, does anyone know where someone like me could go for REAL help?

  18. jenna

    Hi im a borderline with mood shifts that do cycle fast mainly happen 15-20mins between each other. On the other hand even though I cycle throughout the day f0r whatever trigger or of it is just out of nowhere i also have long stages of depression and “oh my god i wanna die” to euphoric manic states “lifes amazong why on earth would i wanna kill myself?” so im a bit confused… Am i a borderline or bipolar? Or do i have both? The borderline symptoms are negative about myself, splitting, dissocatation substance abuse, self harm, failed suicide attempt, rocky relationships family/spouse. I’m just very confused.

  19. joyce

    Ive been treated for bipolar 2 with borderline person.for several years now and been on everything thing you could ever imagine. The meds sometimes works, then they stop….how in the world can anyone get better if your meds only work for a short time? ive been in the hospital a few times, but like me i feel like i need to tell them what they want to hear in order to leave the hospital and try to go in my life. My mood swings are the worse, depression is ever worsier. have low and highs like im the only one who has this……ive taken pills to kill myself low self esteem has the best of me….im not good enough. its killing the relationship Im in now, bu t he hangs in there. havent held a job in 4 years now cant get any help…what do I need to do? Im going crazy? or losing my mind.

  20. Regena

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  21. Steve H

    Sometimes the drugs pdocs prescribe create permanent side effects that persist after discontinuation. Sometimes they cause neural or lymphatic system damage.,often not recognized or until later in life. Generally, they interfere with rehabilitation attempts, after all, what are their cause of actions.. pdocs and pharma don’t know.. better to just try to make out w/o them.. face your problems with a clear head.. or you just might wind up in a group home with no way out.