The aim of this study was to examine the association between previous mood episodes and clinical course/functioning in a community sample (National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions [NESARC]). Subjects (n = 909) met Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, criteria for bipolar I disorder and provided data on number of previous episode recurrences. Number of previous mood episodes was used to predict outcomes at wave 1 and wave 2 of the NESARC. Previous mood episodes accounted for small but unique variance in outcomes. Recurrence was associated with poorer functioning, psychiatric and medical comorbidity, and increased odds of suicidality, disability, unemployment, and hospitalization at wave 1. Recurrences were associated with greater risk for new onset suicidality, psychiatric comorbidity, disability, unemployment, and poor functioning by wave 2. The course of bipolar disorder does worsen with progressive mood episodes but is attenuated in community, relative to clinical samples. Interventions to prevent future relapse may be particularly important to implement early in the course of illness.