Substance Abuse among Bipolar Youth

Substance Abuse among Bipolar Youth

Approximately 1 in 3 teens who suffer from bipolar disorder also develop substance abuse problems. This is referred to as co-morbidity, which is when two conditions occur together. The time frame between diagnosis of the bipolar disorder and the first reported indication of substance abuse was 4 years. It was also found that boys with bipolar disorder were more likely to develop substance abuse issues.

Factors Predicting Substance Abuse

A study conducted between the University of Toronto and the University of Pittsburgh examined 167 young people between the ages of 12 and 17 who suffered from bipolar disorder. The study documented the frequency of first time onset of substance abuse as well as any predictors leading to first time substance abuse. The participants were interviewed an average of 7 times over the course of 4 years, in order to examine their symptoms and to observe the functioning, stressors and treatment. The study found that 32% of the participants developed dependence issues with drugs or alcohol. On average, the span between the study beginning and the first onset of dependence was 2.7 years.

One of the main predictors of future dependence issues was the participants’ experimentation with marijuana. The other factors that were also strong predictors were future substance abuse were:

  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Lack of cohesiveness in the family
  • Absence of antidepressants in the treatment

Just over half of the participants who had 3 or more of the above mentioned factors went on to develop issues with substance abuse. In those who had 2 or less of the factors the percentage that developed substance abuse issues was only 14%.

Treatment for Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse

Bipolar disorder and dependence on substances used to be treated as separate conditions. So those individuals who were diagnosed with bipolar disorder were referred to mental health treatment and those who were actively abusing drugs or alcohol were referred to rehab. However, addiction professionals now recognize the importance of treating the bipolar disorder and substance abuse simultaneously. This is known as integrated treatment.

Integrated treatment can encompass different treatment strategies, which might include one on one psychotherapy sessions, counseling with addiction professionals, support groups, family counseling, and holistic therapy. It is not enough to treat bipolar disorder without also addressing the problem of substance abuse and vice versa. Unless the individual receives care for both conditions, chances of relapse are high.

Blueprints provides support for young adults facing mental health issues and addiction recovery. Our staff and programs support individualized programs to help resolve addictive behaviors and get them on the path to recovery and healing. Call us today on 877-594-4901.


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