Suicidal behavior among alcoholics

  • Alcoholics have a much higher rate of death by suicide than do members of the general population.
  • Those alcoholics with a history of suicide attempts appear to have a significantly more severe course of alcohol dependence than other alcoholics.
  • The fathers, mothers and siblings of alcoholics who had attempted suicide also showed a significantly higher prevalence of suicide attempts.

Contemplating suicide is very common, according to a 1997 article in the New England Journal of Medicine. In fact, up to one third of the general population has thought about suicide at some point in their lives.

The strongest predictor of suicide is psychiatric illness; more than 90 percent of people who commit suicide have diagnosable psychiatric illnesses at the time of death, usually depression, alcohol abuse, or both. The lifetime risk for suicide completion among alcohol-dependent individuals has been reported to be almost 10 percent, which is five to 10 times greater than that found among the general population. A study in the April issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research seeks to identify risk factors for suicide attempts among a large family-based sample of alcoholics from the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA).

"We found that alcohol-dependent individuals with a history of suicide attempts had a significantly more severe course of alcohol dependence," said Marc A. Schuckit, principal COGA investigator at the University of California San Diego site, also of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and corresponding author for the study. "They also had a higher prevalence of both independent and substance-induced psychiatric disorders, as well as other substance dependence." Schuckit speculated that increased alcohol intake by this subgroup of alcoholics may have led to more severe problems, which may have then resulted in brain dysfunction, neuropsychological changes and subsequent


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