Childhood Woes Impact Adult Stability

Alcoholics with a past suicide attempt had history of troubled childhood

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) For alcoholics, suicide attempts may have more to do with childhood troubles than their current circumstances. Looking at their whole past may shed light on future risks.

A recent study looked closely at the past experiences in a group of treatment-seeking male alcoholics.

The results showed that alcohol-dependent patients with histories of troubling childhood events and violence had higher rates of suicide attempts.

"Talk to a therapist about any thoughts of suicide."

Galen Chin-Lun Hung, MD, ScM, from the Department of Psychiatry at Taipei City Hospital in Taiwan and Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, MA, led an investigation into suicide attempts among treatment-seeking alcoholics.

For the study, 175 men who admitted themselves into the Taipei City Psychiatric Center for alcohol dependence between 2007 and 2010 were assessed for suicide risk factors.

Adverse events involving emotional, physical and sexual abuse before the age of 18 were assessed in each patient. Mental illness, domestic violence, divorce or family member incarcerations within the household before the age of 18 were also assessed.

Each patient was asked about any suicide attempts or history of violence towards themselves or others, history of depression and illegal drug use.

The men were between the ages of 33 and 49, had eight to 14 years of education and had a history of alcohol dependence ranging between five and 21 years.

A total of 89 percent of participants reported at least one adverse event during childhood and 75 percent reported multiple adverse experiences during childhood.

Suicide attempts were reported by 27 percent of the men. The researchers found that the men who had attempted suicide in the past were less likely to be married and had higher numbers of childhood adverse events.

Men who had attempted suicide were about twice as likely to report a history of depression, illegal drug use and acts of violence.

Each of the following adverse events during childhood predicted higher chances of a person having attempted suicide:

  • Parental divorce or separation increased the odds five times.
  • Domestic violence towards their mother nearly tripled the odds.
  • Sexual abuse more than doubled the odds.
  • Having an incarcerated household member more than doubled the odds.

The authors concluded that among treatment-seeking alcohol dependent males, the combined history of adverse childhood events and violence were good predictors of previous suicide attempts.

“We suggest that a person’s life history will strongly influence his or her current mental state, and more specifically, his or her propensity for attempting suicide, an assertion that requires further investigation,” the authors wrote.

The authors suggested mental health professionals take inventory of troubling childhood events and violent behavior when assessing suicide risk in alcohol dependent patients.

The authors recommended further studies with larger groups of patients to validate these findings.

This study was published in April in Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.

The National Science Council of Taiwan, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Health Research Institute provided funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 11, 2013
Last Updated:
January 23, 2014