Bipolar Disorder and Drug Abuse in Teens

Teens with bipolar disorder at greater risk for drug abuse if anxious or suicidal

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Substance abuse, or drug abuse, is common in people with bipolar disorder. A recent study looked for substance abuse risk factors in kids and teens with bipolar disorder.

A recent study found that getting a bipolar diagnosis as a teen raised the risk of substance use compared to getting the diagnosis as a child. Teens and children with bipolar disorder were also more likely to abuse drugs if they suffered from anxiety or had a history of suicide attempts.

The authors suggested that knowing about a child's risk for substance abuse may help prevent drug abuse in some children.

"Ask a psychiatrist about how to help prevent drug abuse."

Researchers, led by Aileen Kenneson, PhD, of the Syracuse Veteran's Affairs Medical Center in New York, looked at data collected as part of the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCSR).

The NCSR is a nationwide survey of mental disorders, carried out between 2001 and 2003.

There were 158 kids and teens in the study who had bipolar disorder. The researchers assessed who had substance abuse problems, including alcohol abuse.

They found that kids under the age of 13 who had bipolar disorder were more likely to attempt suicide and to have ADHD than teens.

In both age groups, boys were more likely to develop substance use disorder than girls.

Substance use was linked to having an anxiety disorder, at least one attempted suicide and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager.

The authors reported that suicide attempt was the strongest predictor of substance abuse. About two-thirds of participants with a history of suicide attempt also had substance use disorder.

Substance use by kids and teens with bipolar disorder was not predicted by family history, number of hospitalizations, having ADHD or the type of bipolar disorder.

The authors said that study findings highlight the need for early diagnosis and detection of risk factors to help prevent the development of substance use problems.

The authors concluded, “As clinicians struggle to help individuals with bipolar disorder, this study provides information that might be useful in identifying individuals at higher risk for substance use disorder. Future research can examine whether targeting these risk factors may help prevent secondary substance use disorder.”

This study was published January 15 in Comprehensive Psychiatry.  Funding information and conflicts of interest were not reported in the article.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 23, 2013
Last Updated:
January 24, 2013