Anxiety Linked to Impulsivity in Depression

Bipolar disorder and major depression are linked to more impulsive behaviors when anxiety is present

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Impulsivity is the tendency to act without thinking ahead. People with major depressive disorder (MDD) or bipolar disorder may be more impulsive when they also have anxiety symptoms.

Patients with bipolar or MDD may have suicidal thoughts.  Both impulsivity and anxiety are linked to suicidal behaviors. New research looked for a link between anxiety symptoms, bipolar and MDD, and impulsivity.

They found that anxiety was common for people with these disorders and having anxiety increased impulsivity.

"Talk to your psychologist about your anxiety symptoms. "

It is estimated that 50 percent of MDD patients also have anxiety and that two-thirds of bipolar patients have anxiety. Anxiety symptoms are often overlooked because of more pressing symptoms in these disorders, like suicidal ideas and inability to work.

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, led by Marcella Bellani, MD, PhD, looked at impulsivity and anxiety symptoms in 205 bipolar patients and 105 MDD patients using standard psychological measures. 

They found that 58.9 percent of bipolar patients and 29.1 percent of MDD patients also had anxiety symptoms. 

People with bipolar disorder scored higher on impulsivity compared to patients with MDD. Bipolar patients had an average impulsivity score that was 10 points higher than MDD patients.

Having an anxiety disorder or anxiety symptoms increased impulsivity ratings in both bipolar and MDD. For people with MDD, impulsivity increased as anxiety symptoms increased.

Anxiety in MDD patients increased impulsivity more than for bipolar patients. Impulsivity scores were about seven points higher for MDD patients with anxiety compared to those without anxiety.  For bipolar patients, the difference in impulsivity scores was about two points for those with anxiety compared to those without.

The researchers conclude that anxiety symptoms need attention during treatment of both bipolar and MDD.  They stated in their recent report, “Impulsivity may interact with MDD and [bipolar] by different mechanisms. Further, the results imply that impulsivity may relate differently to dangerous behaviors like suicidality and substance use in unipolar and bipolar illness.”

The study also found that 18 percent of bipolar patients and 11.8 percent of MDD patients met criteria for alcohol abuse. Alcohol dependence was seen in 26 percent of patients with bipolar and 7.8 percent of patients with MDD.

This research was published in May in Journal of Psychiatric Research. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 4, 2012
Last Updated:
August 23, 2012