Alcohol drinking problem linked to higher risk of suicide and self-harm

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Harmful drinking may result in alcohol dependence and other chronic conditions.

This may include high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, cirrhosis of the liver, types of dementia, mental health problems, and various cancers.

In a study from UCL Psychiatry, scientists found problematic alcohol use is associated with increased odds of suicide or self-harm.

The study did not identify a clear association between levels of alcohol drinking and risk of suicide or self-harm, other than among those with “probable dependence” (the highest consumption level); rather, they identified signs of alcohol negatively impacting people’s lives as risk factors.

In the study, the team examined 14,949 people, broadly representative of the general public in England, who completed surveys about alcohol consumption and patterns of harmful use.

The researchers compared this to the self-reported incidence of suicide attempts, suicidal thoughts, and non-suicidal self-harm in the past year.

The team found that whether other people have expressed concern about someone’s drinking was the strongest predictor of suicide and self-harm risk.

People whose friends, family, or colleagues have expressed concerns about their drinking were found to be three times as likely than those who hadn’t received any concern from others to have attempted suicide in the last year, two and a half times as likely to have had suicidal thoughts, and one and a half times as likely to have self-harmed.

The team found people with dependence symptoms—such as an inability to stop drinking, failure to meet normal expectations due to drinking, and feeling a need to drink after a heavy session—and those who reported harmful effects of drinking—such as drink-related guilt, memory loss, or injury—also faced higher odds of suicide or self-harm.

There was no clear pattern based on levels of consumption, as there were no consistent differences in suicide and self-harm risk between people with light, moderate, and hazardous drinking consumption.

However, the team found those in the highest category of consumption (“probable dependence,” counted as drinking more than 30 units of alcohol per week) did face higher odds of suicide and self-harm.

The researchers say that they cannot say whether harmful drinking is what makes mental health worse, or rather if it is a sign of already declining mental health—but they say the causation may go in both directions.

If you care about alcohol drinking, please read studies about the root cause of alcohol addiction, and how alcohol, coffee, and tea intake influence cognitive decline.

For more information about wellness, please see recent studies that alcohol abuse can be a symptom of dementia, and results showing a new way to treat alcohol-associated liver disease.

The study was conducted by Sarah Ledden et al and published in BJPsych Open.

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