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A History of Substance Abuse Complicates Remission From Acute Mania in Bipolar Disorder

J Clin Psychiatry 1999;60(11):733-740

Background: Substance abuse frequently complicates the course of bipolar illness, promotes mixed states, and contributes to poor outcome in mania. Preliminary open trials suggest that anticonvulsant mood stabilizers may enhance remission rates and outcome for bipolar patients with substance abuse. This study compared remission patterns for mixed or pure manic episodes among bipolar inpatients with or without substance abuse histories.

Method: Hospital records were retrospectively reviewed for 204 DSM-III-R bipolar I inpatients. Clinical features were compared for those with or without substance abuse/dependence histories predating the index manic episode. Time until remission was analyzed by Kaplan-Meier survival analysis. Naturalistic treatment outcome with lithium or anticonvulsant mood stabilizers was compared for those with or without past substance abuse.

Results: Past substance abuse was evident in 34% of the bipolar sample and comprised most often alcoholism (82%), followed by cocaine (30%), marijuana (29%), sedative-hypnotic or amphetamine (21%), and opiate (13%) abuse. Substance abuse was more common among men (p < .05) and those with mixed rather than pure mania (p < .05). Remission during hospitalization was less likely among patients with prior substance abuse (p < .05), especially alcohol or marijuana abuse, and among mixed manic patients with past substance abuse (p < .05). Bipolar patients with substance abuse histories who received divalproex or carbamazepine remitted during hospitalization more often than did those who received lithium as the sole mood stabilizer (p < .05).

Conclusion: These findings support previous reports suggesting that bipolar patients with past substance abuse have poorer naturalistic treatment outcomes, but may show a better response to anticonvulsant mood stabilizers than lithium.