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BACKGROUND: Comorbid substance use disorders (SUD) are associated with increased illness severity and functional impairment among adolescents with bipolar disorder (BD). Previous psychosocial treatment studies have excluded adolescents with both BD and SUD. Studies suggest that integrated interventions are optimal for adults with BD and SUD. METHODS: We modified family-focused treatment for adolescents with BD (FFT-A) in order to explicitly target comorbid SUD (FFT-SUD). Ten adolescents with BD who had both SUD and an exacerbation of manic, depressed, or mixed symptoms within the last 3 months were enrolled. FFT-SUD was offered as an adjunct to pharmacotherapy, with a target of 21 sessions over 12 months of treatment. The FFT- SUD manual was iteratively modified to integrate a concurrent focus on SUD. RESULTS: Six subjects completed a mid-treatment 6-month assessment (after a mean of 16 sessions was completed). Of the 10 subjects, 3 dropped out early (after ≤1 session); in the case of each of these subjects, the participating parent had active SUD. No other subjects in the study had a parent with active SUD. Preliminary findings suggested significant reductions in manic symptoms and depressive symptoms and improved global functioning in the subjects who completed 6 months of treatment. Reduction in cannabis use was modest and did not reach significance. Limitations. Limitations included a small sample, open treatment, concurrent medications, and no control group. CONCLUSIONS: These preliminary findings suggest that FFT-SUD is a feasible intervention, particularly for youth without parental SUD. FFT-SUD may be effective in treating mood symptoms, particularly depression, despite modest reductions in substance use. Integrating motivation enhancing strategies may augment the effect of this intervention on substance use. Additional strategies, such as targeting parental substance use, may prevent early attrition.

Original publication




Journal article


J Psychiatr Pract

Publication Date





237 - 248


Adolescent, Adolescent Behavior, Behavioral Symptoms, Bipolar Disorder, Canada, Comorbidity, Family Therapy, Feasibility Studies, Female, Humans, Male, Patient Education as Topic, Psychiatric Status Rating Scales, Psychotropic Drugs, Substance-Related Disorders, Treatment Outcome