Around a third of teens who were diagnosed with bipolar disorder developed substance abuse during four years of follow-up, a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reveals.
The study also identified several risk factors that predicted who among these teens was most likely to develop substance abuse.
Using data from the Course and Outcome of Bipolar Youth (COBY) study, a group of researchers led by Dr. Benjamin Goldstein, of the University of Toronto and the University of Pittsburgh, examined 167 youth, ages 12-17 years, to document the frequency and possible predictors of first-onset substance abuse. Participants in the study were interviewed an average of 7 times over the course of 4 years in order to examine their symptoms, functioning, stressors, and treatment.
The COBY study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, is the largest longitudinal study of children and adolescents with bipolar disorder. The 3-site study enrolled participants at Brown University, UCLA, and the University of Pittsburgh. COBY is continuing to follow these adolescents into their twenties and thirties.
Dr. Goldstein highlighted the risk associated with experimental substance use "in the case of adolescents with bipolar disorder, even so-called recreational substance use is playing with fire." He concluded "we appear to have this window of 2-3 years during which we can attempt to prevent substance abuse in these youth. This study provides some clues regarding the types of preventive strategies that may be useful."