Alcohol, Suicide and Overdoses

Suicide related overdoses in young adults are increasing with alcohol use

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Alcohol has never been known to improve clear-headed decision making. For a person who is thinking about taking their own life, alcohol and medication can make a lethal combo.

An agency of the National Institutes of Health recently did a study on the rates of suicide-related overdoses in teens and young adults in the US.

The results of the study showed that the rates of suicide-related overdoses have slightly declined, but the use of alcohol as part of those overdoses has increased.

"Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255."

Aaron M. White, PhD, from the Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda, MD, led an investigation into suicide-related overdoses, where alcohol was also involved, in teens and young adults in the US.

“Drug poisoning (overdosing) is the leading method of suicide-related deaths among females and third among males in the United States,” according to the authors.

For this study, information from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample was reviewed, from 1999-2008. The researchers found that in 2008 alone, 14,615 kids from 12 to 17 years of age were hospitalized for drug overdoses, of which 72 percent were suicide-related.

Hospital costs for the 2008 suicide-related overdoses were estimated at $43 million, for young teens. At this time, 8 percent of the overdose patients also had alcohol in their systems, and 7 percent of those were suicide-related.

From 1999 to 2008, the rate of hospitalization for drug overdose fell 17 percent and the rate of suicide-related drug overdose fell 16 percent. But the rate of alcohol use in overdoses increased from 5 percent in 1999 to 8 percent in 2008.

In 2008, for young adults aged 18-24, there were 32,471 hospitalizations for drug overdoses, of which 64 percent were suicide-related.

For the young adults, drug overdoses increased 30 percent between 1999-2008, although the increase was in overdoses alone, not suicide-related overdoses.

The rate of suicide-related overdoses for young adults that involved alcohol increased from 14 percent in 1999 to 20 percent in 2008.

For young teenagers, the most common pharmaceuticals found in the overdoses were the over-the-counter pain medications, ibuprofen and acetaminophen, at 51 percent, followed by antidepressants at 17 percent.

For young adults, 42 percent of overdoses also involved over-the-counter pain medications and 25 percent involved sedatives/hypnotics/tranquilizers.

Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Valium, Klonopin qualify as sedatives/hypnotics/tranquilizers.

The hospital costs for suicide-related overdoses for young adults in 2008 was $109.7 million in the US.

The authors noted that while they had access to the statistical data involved with these overdoses, no further lifestyle or mental health information came into play.

“Acute (short-term) alcohol intoxication is estimated to increase the risk of a suicide attempt up to 90 times compared with those who are not intoxicated,” the authors referred to a previous study.

The authors recommended putting intervention protocols into place for overdose patient’s hospital stays and the use of psychotherapy after discharge, to reduce the likelihood of a second suicide attempt.

"It's not surprising that alcohol and drugs are deadly when taken together. They are particularly dangerous in suicide attempts, and are often found together in young people who attempt suicide," said Leana Wen, MD, emergency department doctor at Brigham & Women's/Massachusetts General Hospital and clinical fellow at Harvard. Dr. Wen did not participate in the study.

This study will be published in the April issue of Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.

No outside funding was used in this National Institutes of Health study. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 29, 2013
Last Updated:
April 1, 2013