Research on Bipolar Disorder
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Research on Bipolar Disorder

Q: I am doing a research paper on how prior substance abuse is linked to Bipolar disorder. I was wondering if there is any present research being done to find better treatments for this disorder and if lithium is still the primary treatment used. I hope you can help me in my research. Thank you.

Dear Ms./ Mr. Nova --
No clear info on just how these are linked, that I know of, even though it's a very frequent issue.  For example,  is Mary, on our psych inpatient unit, psychotic because she used methamphetamine?   How about if she's still psychotic a week after last use?  Her family includes others with bipolar disorder.  Is she getting symptoms now that were triggered by meth'?  Would she ever have had those symptoms if she hadn't used?  If she doesn't use any more, and gets better from this episode on Depakote or lithium, does she need to take those for years to prevent another episode?  What shall we tell her about her risk if she uses meth' again -- and will it affect her choices?

These are the questions that go through our minds when treating someone like Mary.  But, the point is, think of what kinds of research might actually answer those questions.  You'd have to have good numbers about a lot of people who used, and a lot who were similar, who didn't use -- and watch what happened to their frequency of psychosis. Such research is extremely difficult and there is basically little or no funding for that kind of work (too bad we didn't elect Gore; his wife would have really pushed mental health research.  Be ready in 4 years).

We can say that yes, we do see a lot of substance use among people with bipolar disorder: more than 50% of people with bipolar disorder use drugs or alcohol, and that's a lot more than the general public.

As far as the rest of your question, try this general reference about treatment of bipolar disorder; and try this up-to-date research summary for some very recent examples of research being done.  Keep up the good research!

Dr. Phelps

Published November, 2000

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