One of the symptoms of a bipolar manic episode is impulsivity, where the person with bipolar disorder will act without thought to the consequences of their actions.  Now there is a new study that has found impulsivity to be a risk factor for alcoholism.[1]


In the study, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis researchers found that mice bred to crave large amounts of alcohol were more impulsive than mice that consumed little or no alcohol.


The impulsivity of the mice was tested by giving them the choice between rewards – either a small reward now, or a large reward later.  The mice that drank large amounts of alcohol were more likely to choose the small reward now.


In a news release from the university, Dr. Nicholas Grahame, an associate professor of psychology at the university's School of Science, said, 'It is well-documented that humans with alcohol problems have impulsivity issues.'


'High impulsivity, when defined as the tendency to choose small instantaneous rewards over larger delayed rewards -- like getting drunk instead of going to work for that paycheck in two weeks -- is more prevalent in alcoholics than in non-alcoholics,' he said. 'Because these mice had never had alcohol, we were able to show that it was the genes that increase drinking, rather than drinking itself, that yielded impulsive behavior.'

Grahame said the mouse study can be applied to people 'and strongly suggests that impulsivity contributes to high alcohol drinking.'


As a result, he said, 'the diagnosis of any disorder associated with impulsivity, such as attention-deficit disorder or bipolar disorder, is cause for concern about future problems with alcoholism.'


Many people with bipolar disorder will turn to alcohol during a manic episode, when their impulsivity is manifesting.  Once this abuse has begun, many will find themselves having a problem with alcoholism even after the episode is over.


Alcoholism is sometimes called a Substance Abuse Disorder.


If someone has both bipolar disorder and alcoholism, doctors call this 'co-morbidity' or 'dual diagnosis,' and say that both disorders must be treated in order for the person to get better.




[1] The study appears online and in the July print issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research