Co-morbidity is a technical term which describes the event of two conditions which occur together. Co-occurring conditions are quite common in medicine. Knowing which conditions tend to go hand-in-hand gives doctors and other health care providers clues as to what illnesses they must be on guard against or watchful of.
Several studies in recent years have focused on the co-morbidity of bipolar disorder (BPD) and substance abuse disorder among teenage patients. Young people who struggle with the mood disorder frequently also battle with substance abuse.
A recent co-morbidity study looked back through data collected between 2001 and 2003 via the National Co-morbidity Survey Replication (NCSR). The ten year old survey was designed to report on mental health through a wide angle lens. However, researchers in the new study honed in on the 158 children and teenagers in the survey who had BPD.
By analyzing the data, the researchers found information helpful in understanding the interplay of BPD and substance abuse among youth.
To begin with they noted that boys with BPD were more likely than girls with the disorder to develop substance abuse issues. Secondly, they found that an attempt at suicide formed the strongest factor in predicting which young people would engage in substance abuse. A suicide attempt appeared to factor in more powerfully than did other common factors such as family history, having attention deficit- hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or even frequent hospitalizations.
Another study, this one based on findings in 2008 underlined the risk that teenagers with bipolar BPD face when it comes to substance abuse. This time the study looked at 105 teenagers with BPD who are part of a longitudinal study on BPD among teens. The researchers compared those 105 with 98 teens who did not have BPD. Researchers reported that the kids with BPD ran a markedly higher risk for substance abused compared to kids without the disorder (31 percent compared to four percent).
Even though teens with BPD are also prone to smoke cigarettes, for the purposes of the study substance abuse was limited to drugs or alcohol. =Abuse was determined according to criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health IV. The two groups were similar in age and presented a clear picture of just how great the risk is facing young people with BPD.
There is good news fortunately. Research also indicates that when the BPD is treated, the risk for co-morbid substance abuse likewise diminishes. This emphasizes just how important it is that BPD be recognized as soon as possible. Patients with BPD should be warned by healthcare providers about the potential risk. On the flip side, when teens are undergoing treatment for substance abuse, it may be wise to screen them for BPD as well.