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The Role of Alcohol and Substances in Suicide


Suicide Prevention Week is September 4-10. This week, we at Psychiatric Times want to highlight how best to support patients, friends, family, and anyone who might be having suicidal thoughts. We sat down with Manish Mishra, MBBS, the Chief Medical Officer of the Texas Healthcare and Diagnostic Center, to discuss.

PT: What does research say the role of alcohol/substances is in suicide?

Research on the link between alcohol and substances in suicide has been driven by the prevalent involvement of alcohol and substance abuse in suicide cases. There is a multitude of factors to be considered when examining the correlation between substance abuse and suicide as independent variables with an anecdotally strong interdependent relationship.

Historical data used to inform research suggests that across general populations, all types of substance abuse and substance use disorders are associated with increased risk for suicidal behaviors, including ideations, attempts, and fatalities. Substance abuse involving alcohol and illegal or prescription drugs is a much higher risk factor for suicidal mortality.

One of the reasons why alcohol and drug abuse is so strongly associated with suicide has to do with the psychological and psychosocial outcomes of untreated alcohol and drug dependence. Substance abuse and addiction often result in social isolation and marginalization, disruptions and conflicts in personal relationships, and aggravation of psychiatric symptoms such as depression and anxiety, all of which contribute to suicidal behaviors.

Another strong correlation is that alcohol and mind-altering substances are used as means of self-medication to cope with untreated mental health disorders, the symptoms of which are reciprocally exacerbated by substances. This causes a spiral effect of emotional decline and mental impairment that occurs with chronic alcohol and drug use and intoxication.

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