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Risk for substance use disorders in youths with child- and adolescent-onset bipolar disorder.

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  • 1Pediatric Psychopharmacology Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston 02114, USA.



Previous work in adults has suggested that early-onset bipolar disorder (BPD) is associated with an elevated risk for substance use disorders (SUD). To this end, the authors assessed the risk for SUD in child- versus adolescent-onset BPD with attention to comorbid psychopathology.


All youths (aged 13-18 years) with available structured psychiatric interviews were studied systematically. From clinic subjects (N = 333), 86 subjects with DSM-III-R BPD were identified. To evaluate the risk for SUD and BPD while attending to developmental issues, the authors stratified the BPD sample into those with child-onset BPD (< or = 12 years of age, n = 50) and those with adolescent-onset BPD (13-18 years of age, n = 36).


In mid-adolescence, youths with adolescent-onset BPD were at significantly increased risk for SUD relative to those with child-onset BPD (39% versus 8%; p = .001). Compared with those with child-onset BPD, those with adolescent-onset BPD had 8.8 times the risk for SUD (95% confidence interval = 2.2-34.7; chi 7(2) = 9.7, p = .002). The presence of conduct disorder or other comorbid psychopathology within BPD did not account for the risk for SUD.


Adolescent-onset BPD is associated with a much higher risk for SUD than child-onset BPD, which was not accounted for by conduct disorder or other comorbid psychopathology. Youths with adolescent-onset BPD should be monitored and educated about SUD risk. The identification and treatment of manic symptomatology may offer therapeutic opportunities to decrease the risk for SUD in these high-risk youths.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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