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The Association Between Moderate Alcohol Use and Illness Severity in Bipolar Disorder: A Preliminary Report.

J Clin Psychiatry 2006;67:102-106

Objective: To examine the association of alcohol consumption with symptoms, illness course, and health care utilization among non-alcoholic patients with bipolar disorder.

Method: Subjects were 148 patients with bipolar I or II disorder enrolled in a longitudinal study of cognitive-behavioral therapy versus psychoeducation. Subjects were 18 to 60 years old, in full or partial remission, and non-heavy drinkers with no history of substance use disorders. At least 4 weeks of consistent naturalistic treatment with mood stabilizer was required for enrollment. Measures included the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV, the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, the Clinician-Administered Rating Scale for Mania, and the Khavari Alcohol Test. Data were gathered from July 2002 to December 2004.

Results: Mean weekly alcoholic beverage consumption was minimal among both men (3.8 standard drinks, SD = 8.9) and women (1.2 standard drinks, SD = 1.9). Nonetheless, total alcohol consumption among men was associated with lifetime manic episodes (F = 10.2, df = 1, p = .003) and emergency department visits (F = 4.3, df = 1, p = .046). Spirits consumption among men was strongly associated with lifetime manic episodes (F = 81.8, df = 1, p < .001) and emergency department visits (F = 14.0, df = 1, p < .001). Among women, the frequency of alcohol consumption was associated with lifetime episodes of depression (F = 15.5, df = 1, p < .001) and hypomania (F = 4.8, df = 1, p < .03). Wine consumption among women was associated with lifetime hypomanic episodes (F = 13.6, df = 1, p < .001) and current manic symptoms (F = 4.0, df = 1, p < .05).

Conclusion: Despite low volumes of consumption, alcohol was associated with measures of illness severity in bipolar disorder among both men and women. The adverse effects of alcohol on bipolar disorder may occur over a range of consumption, rather than being confined to heavy drinkers.