Bipolar Disorder vs. Borderline Personality Disorder: Understanding the Differences

Apr 05, 2023
Bipolar disorder and BPD differ in symptoms, causes, and treatments. Bipolar features mood swings, while BPD presents emotional instability. Treatment for bipolar uses medication and therapy, while BPD employs dialectical behavior therapy.


Bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder (BPD) are two mental health conditions that can present with similar symptoms, making it challenging to differentiate between the two. Both conditions impact mood, behavior, and functioning in daily life. However, they have distinct differences in their core characteristics, causes, and treatment approaches. Understanding these differences is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

This blog post will delve into the differentiating factors between bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, including symptom presentation, causes, and treatment strategies.

  1. Symptom Presentation

Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings, which include episodes of mania (elevated mood, energy, and activity) and depression (low mood, energy, and activity). These mood episodes can last for days, weeks, or even months. In between these episodes, individuals with bipolar disorder may experience periods of stability and normal mood.

On the other hand, borderline personality disorder is characterized by a pervasive pattern of instability in relationships, self-image, and mood, as well as impulsive behavior. People with BPD often have intense emotional reactions to perceived slights or abandonment and may engage in self-destructive behaviors. While mood swings are also present in BPD, they tend to be more short-lived, often lasting hours or days, rather than the longer episodes seen in bipolar disorder.

  1. Causes and Risk Factors

Bipolar disorder is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurobiological factors. Family history plays a significant role in the development of the disorder, with a higher risk among individuals with a close relative diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Borderline personality disorder's exact cause is unknown, but it is also thought to arise from a combination of genetic, environmental, and social factors. Childhood trauma, abuse, or neglect may contribute to the development of BPD. Additionally, certain personality traits, such as impulsivity and aggression, have been linked to the disorder.

  1. Treatment Strategies

Treatment for bipolar disorder typically involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Mood stabilizers, such as lithium, are commonly prescribed to help regulate mood swings. In some cases, antipsychotic medications or antidepressants may also be used. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and family-focused therapy, can help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

In contrast, the primary treatment for borderline personality disorder is psychotherapy. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), specifically designed for BPD, focuses on teaching individuals skills to regulate emotions, tolerate distress, and improve interpersonal relationships. While medications may be used to manage co-occurring conditions or specific symptoms, they are not the primary treatment for BPD.


Differentiating between bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder is essential for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Although both conditions involve mood instability, they differ in the duration and intensity of mood episodes, causes, and treatment strategies. If you suspect you or a loved one may be experiencing either of these disorders, consult a mental health professional for a thorough evaluation and guidance on the best course of treatment.