Almost Quarter of Suicides Involve Intoxication

THURSDAY June 18, 2009 -- Almost 25 percent of people who take their own lives are intoxicated when they commit the act, U.S. health officials report.

From 2001 to 2005, there were an estimated annual 79,646 alcohol-attributable deaths each year and some 5,800 of those deaths were associated with suicide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This is the first study that shows alcohol is connected to suicide in a number of population groups," said report author Dr. Alex Crosby, a medical epidemiologist in the division of violence prevention at the CDC's Injury Center. "There are some groups that may be at greater risk for alcohol being related to a suicide event."

Other studies have shown that alcohol is a risk factor for suicide, Crosby added.

The report is published in the June 19 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

To reach their conclusions, Crosby's team used data from 17 states, sourced from the National Violent Death Reporting System for the years 2005 and 2006. They studied the relationship between alcohol and suicide in different racial/ethnic groups.

The researchers found that, overall, 23.6 percent of suicides involved alcohol intoxication. The highest prevalence was among American Indian/Alaska Natives (37.1 percent), Hispanic/Latino (28.7 percent) and those aged 20 to 49 (28.2 percent).

In addition, men were more likely to be intoxicated when they took their lives compared with women, Crosby said.

He noted that including alcohol and substance abuse in suicide prevention programs could help identify those at risk for suicide.

"Alcohol is linked to suicide in a large proportion of suicide events, and there are steps that communities can take to try and make sure that suicide prevention activities address the issues of alcohol in their programs," Crosby said. "When suicide prevention programs are developed, they should include alcohol as one of the aspects of the program to incorporate."

Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said the study sheds light on how alcohol and suicide interact.

"The depression that results in suicide may result in drinking," Katz said. "Perhaps the suicide decision is made first, and the alcohol follows to numb the pain, or perhaps alcohol truly does convert passive despondency into desperate acts. If so, it is a contributor, not an essential cause -- since the majority of suicides do not involve alcohol."

Both depression and alcohol abuse are significant public health problems, Katz said. "The mixture is highly volatile, and potentially fatal. Diligent, ongoing efforts to find and treat depression, and to prevent excessive alcohol intake are needed so the two collide less often."

More information

For more information on suicide, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Posted: June 2009


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