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Criminal conviction, impulsivity, and course of illness in bipolar disorder


  • The authors of this paper do not have any commercial associations that might pose a conflict of interest in connection with this manuscript.

Corresponding author:
Alan C. Swann, M.D.
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
The University of Texas
Health Science Center at Houston
1941 East Road, Room 3216
Houston, TX 77054, USA
Fax: 713-486-2553


Swann AC, Lijffijt M, Lane SD, Kjome KL, Steinberg JL, Moeller FG. Criminal conviction, impulsivity, and course of illness in bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Disord 2011: 13: 173–181. © 2011 The Authors.
Journal compilation © 2011 John Wiley & Sons A/S.

Objective:  Criminal behavior in bipolar disorder may be related to substance use disorders, personality disorders, or other comorbidities potentially related to impulsivity. We investigated relationships among impulsivity, antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) or borderline personality disorder symptoms, substance use disorder, course of illness, and history of criminal behavior in bipolar disorder.

Methods:  A total of 112 subjects with bipolar disorder were recruited from the community. Diagnosis was by Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID-I and SCID-II); psychiatric symptom assessment by the Change version of the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia (SADS-C); severity of Axis II symptoms by ASPD and borderline personality disorder SCID-II symptoms; and impulsivity by questionnaire and response inhibition measures.

Results:  A total of 29 subjects self-reported histories of criminal conviction. Compared to other subjects, those with convictions had more ASPD symptoms, less education, more substance use disorder, more suicide attempt history, and a more recurrent course with propensity toward mania. They had increased impulsivity as reflected by impaired response inhibition, but did not differ in questionnaire-measured impulsivity. On logit analysis, impaired response inhibition and ASPD symptoms, but not substance use disorder, were significantly associated with criminal history. Subjects convicted for violent crimes were not more impulsive than those convicted for nonviolent crimes.

Conclusions:  In this community sample, a self-reported history of criminal behavior is related to ASPD symptoms, a recurrent and predominately manic course of illness, and impaired response inhibition in bipolar disorder, independent of current clinical state.