05/04/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Bipolar Disorder, Genetic Alcoholism, And What Recurring Dreams Mean

Help me out here. Now Britney is bipolar? Every time some celeb does something bad (think Jean-Claude Van Damme or Mike Tyson), they later come out as diagnosed with bipolar disorder. So does "mental illness" have as symptoms throwing tantrums and partying? And does medication help with that really?

Dear HTB,

Manic Depression or Bipolar Disorder has as symptoms significant ups and downs in moods and energy. The ups are called mania, and that's when the person is reckless, promiscuous, spends money, drinks too much or takes drugs. Sometimes they feel great and are really creative and productive; other times they are agitated and feel speedy and aggressive. The downs are characterized by a depression that can get bad enough to be suicidal. The shifting between ups and downs can be infrequent or "cycle" within minutes. This makes this particular illness very, very hard to medicate; however, mood stabilizers may help the downs from being too low and keep the highs from being so destructive. I can't say for sure as far as Britney is concerned--to me, her growing up as a child star puts her at risk for some personality disorders, her failed relationships and public performance humiliations for huge stress, and there is possible post partum depression from her two children back-to-back. Obviously her surroundings and lack of a good support system are factors, too. Here's the most recent website I've found with some good info on Bipolar Disorder.

My father and my grandfather are alcoholics. I like to drink, but wonder how much it runs in families. Should I be really worried?

Yes, it does run in families. It might have skipped a generation with you, but why gamble when it is something so very important that can really wreak havoc on your life? Given that it is present in both generations, I would steer clear. Getting sober is hard as hell and a gruesome uphill battle.

I keep having the same few recurring dreams. Why don't they change or just stop happening? And what does it mean when they are the same and just pop up after not having had them for months and months?

Recurring dreams tend to happen when you are faced with a situation or feeling that has come up before. So say you dream about leaving a cake out in the rain from time to time-- it may be that this dream occurs when you have had plans of some sort and they go awry. Though classic psychological theory would have some objects always represent certain objects (think cigars and penises), I find that the event or objects in the dream are very personal. And all recurring dreams need not be nightmares: I had one patient dream of skillfully rollerblading quickly around circuitous paths in the sunshine and breeze when things were going well, even though he had never put on blades in his life.

My husband keeps telling my son to "let it out" when he is angry, and it just seems he gets more upset. Is this the right technique?

Research on venting when you are angry doesn't show it's good for you; in fact, sometimes it can get you more riled up rather than helping you to calm down and get an understanding of the event intellectually. That being said, doing something physical when you are upset--like going for a run--can help you organize your thoughts and problem-solve better afterward.