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Cocaine And Alcohol Abuse Linked To Suicide Risk

Dr. Gerardo Sison

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison

April 1, 2019

In a new study, researchers explored the correlation between substance abuse and suicide risk, revealing a particularly complex relationship between the two. By gathering the details of hundreds of suicidal emergency department patients around the US, researchers were able to determine that the link is far more prevalent when cocaine and alcohol are used together.

Researchers And Participants In The Study

Sarah Arias is the assistant professor (research) of psychiatry and human behavior at Alpert Medical School of Brown University and research psychologist at Butler College. Arias was responsible for leading the study to evaluate the correlations between substance abuse and suicide attempts in patients. The study consisted of 874 men and women who had visited one of eight emergency departments (ED) between 2010 and 2012.

Patients were involved in a study called Emergency Department Safety Assessment and Follow-Up Evaluation study, led by the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Participants in the study were those who had reported a recent suicide attempt or had suicidal thoughts on the initial ED visit.

Results Of The Study

Researchers gathered demographic and substance use info from participants, then followed them for a year to record findings. Over the course of the year, 195 people attempted suicide again at least once following the initial visit. Multiple substances were reported by participants in the study, however, Arias and colleagues found that only cocaine and alcohol played a significant role in suicide risk. Of the 874 participants:

  • 298 participants used alcohol and 72 used cocaine
  • 41 participants used both
  • Of those using both, the chance of attempting suicide again were 2.4x greater

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Substance abuse was a less likely factor of risk among female participants, however, women were more likely than men to attempt suicide overall. Researchers observed a more substantial correlation between substance abuse and suicide attempts in men and older participants.

What Do These Findings Mean?

While findings from the study do not suggest that substance abuse causes the behavior, it is important to acknowledge the presence of correlation. It is thought that by studying these patterns, medical professionals and patients can better utilize preventative measures based on the presence of risk factors.

Understanding Risk Factors

When suicidal tendencies are present within an individual, there are many different factors at work. Depression and other mood disorders are the number one risk factor, with drug and alcohol abuse coming in at a close second. Suicide is most commonly a reaction to adverse or traumatic life events in conjunction with clinical depression (90 percent).

Some additional risk factors include:

  • Prior suicide attempts
  • Family history of addiction, suicide, or mental illness
  • History of violence
  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse (victim)
  • Keeping weapons (especially firearms) in the home
  • Chronic pain or illness
  • Incarceration
  • Exposure to suicidal behaviors

There is a clear connection between substance abuse and suicide, leading researchers to delve into specifics of the condition to assess and prevent future occurrences of suicide attempts. Sometimes, substance abuse is a symptom of unresolved mental illness in an individual. It is not uncommon for those dealing with physical or emotional pain to reach out to a substance to find relief.

Warning Signs Of Suicide

Suicide is sometimes an unexpected occurrence. Oftentimes, the warning signs for suicide are not identified until after suicide has been committed. It is important to be mindful of the behaviors of others, especially if mental illness or substance abuse is a problem. Some of the warning signs of suicide include:

  • Frequently talking about death or dying – especially when glorifying the subject
  • Sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping, and lack of appetite
  • Risky or impulsive behavior which could lead to death or serious injury
  • A “nothing to lose” attitude
  • Changing terms of or writing a new will
  • Suggesting that things would be better if he or she were not around
  • Switching suddenly from sadness to relief
  • Talking about suicide
  • Calling or visiting loved ones to say goodbye

According to the Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 20-50 percent of people who commit suicide have attempted suicide at least once in the past. It is especially important to take people exhibiting these warning signs very seriously. Be sure to listen to the person and avoid conflict. There is no amount of arguing that will help with a person in this state of mind. Contact a healthcare professional in the event that suicidal warning signs are present.

Combined Alcohol And Cocaine Abuse Linked To Suicide Risk

In the study conducted by Sarah Arias and colleagues, it was established that alcohol and cocaine abuse is linked to suicide attempts. While these findings were very broad, the study opens many doors for further research and suicide prevention methods in the future. By working to better understand risk factors, physicians can be better equipped to assess trouble before life-threatening behavior occurs.

We Can Help

It is not uncommon for those dealing with physical or emotional pain to reach out to a substance to find relief. If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, the caring staff at is here to help. We can help guide you through the recovery process and offer support through your journey. Contact us today.

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