New Study Suggests Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol Use Disorder May Be Genetically Linked

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Throughout the course of mental health research, there has been a theory that several mental health conditions and illnesses could potentially be connected. However, science has been unable to definitively connect specific conditions to each other or show how they might be linked. However, a new study led by David Glahn of the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center shows that shared genetic factors exist for bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder (AUD) through what is believed to be a common underlying biology.

The researchers stated, “Searching for the common genetic influences for bipolar disorder and AUD combined, rather than focusing on each illness separately, may provide insight into psychopathology.” Glahn continued, “Thus, it is possible that biomarkers sensitive to risk for both illnesses could be identified, which in turn could be used to refine our diagnostic nosology.”

Medwire News highlights that the researchers also say sharing common genetic factors follows with previous observations that bipolar disorder and addictive disorders share similar brain networks and the possibility of overlapping neuropysiologic mechanisms.

“Our findings suggest that common genes may influence these putatively shared neural processes,” read the report published in European Psychiatry.

The study examined 733 Costa Rican individuals who were first, second, and third degree relatives of 61 sibling pairs with bipolar disorder. In total, 32% of the individuals studied met the criteria for broad bipolar phenotype, and 17% had a lifetime AUD diagnosis. Also, 32% met criteria for lifetime nicotine dependence, and 21% had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Patients meeting the criteria for bipolar were significantly more likely to have an alcohol use disorder compared to the general public. Twenty-eight percent of patients meeting the criteria for bipolar disorder also had AUD, well over the 19% of those without bipolar disorder.

Using bivariate analysis, the researchers showed that bipolar disorder was significantly phenotypically correlated with AUD, nicotine dependence, and anxiety disorders driven largely by genetic factors rather than environment.

“These findings improve our understanding of the shared genetic factors underlying these illnesses and could enhance the development of novel approaches to improve illness course, response to treatment, and treatment adherence,” Glahn and his team concluded.

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