Older Alcoholics Face Greater Risk of Suicide

August 1, 2003

Although studies have already shown that alcoholism can greatly increase the risk of suicide, a new published study has discovered that age is also a factor in suicide among alcoholics.

It is well-established that alcoholism can greatly increase the risk of suicide and that comorbid conditions, such as mood disorders, can increase the risk even further. For example, one study stated that the risk of alcoholics committing suicide was over five times greater than that of nonalcoholics.

A new study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research (2003;27[7]:1156-1161) has found that age may also play a role in the risk for suicide among alcoholics.

Kenneth R. Conner, M.D., and colleagues at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that middle-aged and older patients with alcoholism are at a greater risk for suicide than younger patients.

The researchers looked at data collected in New Zealand on 193 adults who had committed suicide and on 240 adults who made a serious suicide attempt that required at least 24 hours of hospitalization.

The researchers found that while the association between alcohol use and completed suicide increased with age, the association between alcohol use and suicide attempts was not affected by age. Furthermore, increased age amplified the association between mood disorders and suicide, while decreased age strengthened the association between mood disorders and suicide attempts.

Several hypotheses for these findings were given: 1) older alcoholics have been exposed to the deleterious effects of alcohol for a longer period of time; 2) aggression and impulsivity underlie the failure to mature out of alcoholism and the risk for suicide; 3) older alcoholics at risk for suicide have a later onset of alcoholism in the context of a negative affect; and 4) older alcoholics have diminished physical reserves, which makes surviving a suicide attempt less likely.

In a statement to the press, Conner explained the significance of the findings: "This study's findings reinforce the notion of different age-related patterns in attempted suicide and completed suicide"--TB