Alcohol is associated with a number of negative outcomes – it can cause liver failure, certain types of cancer, and often plays a role in fatal car crashes. It is even associated with anxiety and depression. New evidence additionally suggests that alcohol in combination with cocaine is correlated with a marked increase in suicide risk. Researchers are beginning to understand the unique connection between cocaine use and suicidal thoughts.
Cocaine and Alcohol: A Complex Relationship
A recent study referenced in the journal Crisis, published by Hogrefe, illustrates the complexity of combined substance abuse and a person’s unique risk for suicide. Researchers examined hundreds of emergency department records from across the country and found that patients who used both cocaine and alcohol have a significantly higher risk of suicidal behavior. The degree of correlation differed slightly by age, gender, and race.
The research team looked at nearly 900 suicidal men and women admitted to emergency departments between 2010 and 2012. After controlling for confounding variables, they found that the combination of cocaine and alcohol use led to an increased risk of patients attempting suicide again in the following year. Though people in the study reported using other substances such as prescription painkillers and stimulants, only the combination of cocaine and alcohol led to a significant chance of another suicide attempt. Patients included in the study either reported a recent suicide attempt or thoughts of suicide at the time of their visit, according to the report.
The study population involved 298 participants who used alcohol, 41 of whom also reported cocaine use. These individuals were 2.4 times more likely to have a repeat suicide attempt. When researchers followed up with the participants one year later, they found that 195 of the original study group had attempted suicide at least once.
Some People More Vulnerable Than Others
Some correlations between substance abuse and suicide were stronger than others. For example, women are more likely to report suicide attempts than men, though men are more likely to experience problems with substance abuse. This information could help researchers identify the most vulnerable individuals and properly target interventions to decrease the number of suicides by those affected by substance abuse. In short, the study provides future directions for research, and a need to uncover more about the effects of cocaine and alcohol in tandem on the brain.
Correlation, Not Causation
Lead researcher Sarah Arias at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University cautions that the findings do not point to a “clear-cut, straightforward association…Even though substance use is often touted as a very strong predictor of suicidal intentions and behaviors, when we look at individual substances we’re seeing that there’s not that consistency in the future association with behavior.”
She further explains that the mental health community is trying to identify factors that help assess people at risk for suicide, and this is a step in the right direction: “Patients who have potentially comorbid alcohol and cocaine use may be at a higher risk. Findings like these can be useful for informing suicide risk assessment.”
Directions for Further Research
Though this study is a promising step in the right direction, there is a need for further research examining the unique relationship between, cocaine, alcohol, and suicide. There might be an underlying factor, such as unique alterations in the brain’s structure and function that lead to an increase in suicide ideation. Additionally, there may be other risk factors at play: for example, common threads in sex, socio-economic status, or environmental factors that lead to an increased risk of suicide.
The most important finding in this research is that it can help others in the mental health field identify red flags concerning risks for suicide. Hospital workers, family members, and behavioral health officials can all use this information to better identify those at higher risk for suicide, and properly intervene to create a more positive outcome.
Consider The Treatment Center to Help Overcome Addiction
This new study may be alarming to family members who have a loved one struggling with substance abuse, but it also offers hope. This study will help spur new efforts to uncover the exact nature of the relationship between cocaine, alcohol, and the brain. In the meantime, if you or someone you know abuses both cocaine and alcohol, know that the risks of suicide may be higher. Intervene and get them the help they need. The Treatment Center is committed to helping families overcome addiction and lead healthy and productive lives. To learn more about the services we provide to families nationwide, reach out to us. There is health and hope waiting for you at The Treatment Center.
Suicidal Thoughts and Feelings Tend to Hit Those with Substance Abuse Issues First, Foremost, and Often Without Warning
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