Risk and Protective Factors for Suicide in Patients with Alcoholism
Alcoholism is associated with a high risk for suicidal behavior. Up to 40% of persons with alcoholism attempt suicide at some time and 7% end their lives by committing suicide. Risk factors include being male, older than 50 years of age, living alone, being unemployed, poor social support, interpersonal losses, continued drinking, consumption of a greater amount of alcohol when drinking, a recent alcohol binge, previous alcohol treatment, a family history of alcoholism, a history of comorbid substance abuse (especially cocaine), a major depressive episode, serious medical illness, suicidal communication, and prior suicidal behavior. Suicidal behavior is especially frequent in patients with comorbid alcoholism and major depression. However, all patients with alcoholism should be evaluated for suicide risk. Understanding of risk and vulnerability to suicidal behavior in alcoholism still outweighs our knowledge of protective factors and resilience. Knowledge of protective factors for suicide may help to prevent and/or predict suicidal behavior. Protective factors for suicide in alcoholism are quite varied and include an individual's biological and behavioral characteristics, as well as attributes of the environment and culture. Protective factors include effective clinical care for psychiatric (including alcoholism and drug abuse) and physical disorders, easy access to a variety of clinical interventions and support for seeking help, restricted access to highly lethal means of suicide, strong connections to family and community support, skills in problem solving and conflict resolution, cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support self-preservation. Future studies are necessary to determine which interventions may reduce suicidal behavior in alcoholism.