Patterns of alcohol use in bipolar disorder

A number of previous research studies have shown higher rates alcohol abuse and dependence among individuals with bipolar disorder compared to the general population. Little however is known about alcohol use more widely among individuals with the disorder. In a recently published study we examined patterns of lifetime heaviest average weekly alcohol consumption levels in a large sample of 1203 women and 673 men with bipolar I disorder.

Our findings showed over half of both women (52.3%) and men (73.6%) in our sample had regularly consumed over double the current UK recommended guideline for alcohol consumption. In women and men higher levels of lifetime alcohol consumption were associated with a history of suicide attempts and a rapid cycling illness course. Specifically in women only, increasing levels of alcohol consumption were associated with experiencing more episodes of depression and mania and having comorbid conditions including panic and eating disorders.

Our results highlight the clinical importance of monitoring levels of alcohol consumption in bipolar disorder as this may be helpful in predicting illness course, in particular eating disorders comorbidity in women. This study was recently published the journal Bipolar Disorders.