Objectives: Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are common co-occurring conditions in patients with bipolar disorder (BD), but it is unclear whether or not AUD and BD symptoms are temporally correlated. The primary aim of this analysis was to examine concurrent symptom tracking and how the relative onsets of AUD and BD influence the concurrent tracking of symptoms.
Methods: Participants met DSM-IV criteria for bipolar I disorder, manic or mixed, with no prior hospitalizations and minimal treatment. Patients were rated for alcohol use and bipolar symptom severity on a weekly basis for up to 7 years. For analysis purposes, patients were placed into groups with no AUD (BD Only; n = 21), onset of AUD either concurrent with or after the onset of bipolar symptoms (BD First; n = 32), and onset of AUD at least 1 year before the onset of bipolar symptoms (AUD First; n = 18).
Results: None of the patient groups demonstrate consistent positive or negative temporal correlations between alcohol use and affective symptoms. However, there were significant between-group differences on the relationship of symptom tracking and age of BD onset. For the AUD First group, the correlation between age of BD onset and symptom tracking was positive 0.41. However, for the BD First and BD Only groups the correlations were negative (−0.32 and −0.41, respectively). Moreover, for patients whose BD onset was ≤18 years old, the correlation between age of onset and tracking was −0.47.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that although there is no direct temporal correlation of AUD and BD symptoms in subgroups of BD patients, age at illness onset contributes to the complex relationship between BD and AUD. For younger patients there may be a greater likelihood that alcohol use and bipolar symptoms increase or decrease in unison.