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The association between alcohol consumption and suicidal ideation and suicidal attempt

The present study evaluates the relation of alcohol consumption and the pattern of drinking with self-reports of suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts among more than 43,000 men and women in Korea, using data from a 2007-2011 survey. Overall, 11.3% of males and 21.2% of females reported that they had experienced suicidal ideation, and 0.8% of males and 1.1% of females had attempted suicide. High scores on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and a history of alcoholic blackouts were associated with suicidal ideation among both men and women and, for males, with suicidal attempts.

There is little known about the epidemiology of suicidal tendencies, or the specific causes of suicide. It is generally agreed that depression is the most important risk factor for suicide, and depression can lead to alcohol abuse; however, alcohol abuse can also lead to depression. Unfortunately, with cross-sectional data, analyses such as those in this paper cannot sort out the confounding issues nor, more importantly, address the causality of alcohol consumption with suicidal tendencies. The egg and hen question has never been solved – whether the depression or the heavy drinking came first. Thus, whether alcohol abuse increases the risk of depression (that may lead to suicide) or whether depressed people turn to alcohol seeking relief, cannot be determined from analyses such as these. However, it is also noted that this study suggests that drinking alcohol according to the usual guidelines for “sensible drinking” (generally, advising no more than 1 to 2 drinks/day) is not associated with the risk of suicidal ideation or attempt.

Forum members also commented on the large differences between populations in suicidal tendencies, being much higher in Korea and Japan than in most of Europe and North America. This could limit the applicability of the conclusions of this study to western populations.

Reference: Bae H-C, Hong S, Jang S-I, Lee K-S, Park F-C. Patterns of Alcohol Consumption and Suicidal Behavior: Findings From the Fourth and Fifth Korea National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (2007–2011). J Prev Med Public Health 2015;48:142-150 • For the full critique of this paper by members of the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research, please click here.

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