Early Alcohol Initiation Linked to Teen Suicide

By McNamara, Damian | Clinical Psychiatry News, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Early Alcohol Initiation Linked to Teen Suicide


McNamara, Damian, Clinical Psychiatry News


ORLANDO -- Adolescents who start drinking alcohol before age 13 are at a significantly increased risk for suicide ideation and attempts, even when controlling for depression, psychiatric treatment, and other risk factors.

An emphasis on interventions to delay or prevent early alcohol initiation therefore could be beneficial, reported Monica H. Swahn, Ph.D., associate professor, Institute of Public Health, Georgia State University, Atlanta.

Compared with self-reported nondrinkers, risk for suicide ideation and/or attempt was higher in young adolescents who reported drinking alcohol as preteenagers (adjusted odds ratio, 2.40). Risk remained elevated when the same cohort was resurveyed as older teens (adjusted OR, 3.13), Dr. Swahn reported.

However, the risk for subsequent suicide was no longer significant when the same participants were surveyed as adults (OR, 1.71). Alcohol use, especially early alcohol use, may increase capacity for suicide behaviors. "Most of us talk about the inhibition, but there is also an indirect effect--alcohol can increase other risks." Adverse effects on brain development and increased tolerance to pain are examples. Early initiation also might be an indicator of family dysfunction or poor coping strategies, Dr. Swahn said.

"Until recently, very little research has examined the role of early alcohol use initiation, prior to age 13, as a specific risk factor for suicide," Dr. Swahn said.

To find out more, she and her associates conducted a secondary analysis of three prospective waves of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Of the total 10,417 participants, 13. …

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