Plenty of ink has been devoted to the discussion of the relationship between alcoholism and suicide. Alcoholics have a disproportionately high risk of committing suicide; individuals with alcohol dependence have a 60 to 120 times greater suicide risk than the non-alcoholic population. Alcoholics frequently battle depression; by attempting to self-medicate with alcohol, which itself is a depressant, they actually compound the depressed state.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcoholism was attributed to 88,000 deaths in 2011, 62,000 men and 26,000 women, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
The link between alcoholism and insomnia
The relationship between alcoholism and insomnia is well-known. A study investigating insomnia and its self-medication with alcohol among alcoholic patients, demonstrated a strong correlation, as well as the relationship, between these variables and alcoholic relapse.
Compared to patients without insomnia, patients presenting with insomnia were more likely to report frequent alcohol use for sleep (55 percent versus 28 percent), had significantly worse sleep continuity, and had more severe alcohol dependence and depression. Among 74 alcoholics who were followed for five months after treatment, 60 percent with baseline insomnia relapsed versus 30 percent without baseline insomnia — significant difference.
Insomnia has also long been linked to a wide variety of health problems, including heart disease, obesity and mood disorders. Poor sleep also leads to decreased alertness and drowsy driving, increasing the possibility of traffic accidents.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine states that about 10 percent of people suffer from chronic insomnia disorder, which is defined as a sleep disturbance, and subsequent daytime symptoms that have been present for at least three months. An estimated 15 to 20 percent of American adults have short-term insomnia disorder, and both types of sleep disorders are more common in women than men.
The link between insomnia and suicide
Researchers devoted to understanding the link between insomnia and suicide from Georgia Regents University examined the possible connection between sleep disturbances and suicide attempts. Their study identified an association between the severity of insomnia, and whether nightmares factored in, and suicidality. In addition, they highlighted that a sense of hopelessness about sleep can be a risk factor for suicide in people suffering from depression.
Connecting alcoholism, insomnia and suicide
A more recent study out of Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi, found that three conditions — alcoholism, insomnia and suicide — are interrelated. According to Michael Nadorff, Ph.D., assistant professor at Mississippi State University and principal investigator in the study, “These results are important as they help demonstrate that alcohol use is associated with an increase in suicide risk, and that this increase may be partially due to insomnia symptoms.” The results of this study were published in the December 2014 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
For the study, researchers looked at 375 undergraduate students who were required to complete questionnaires regarding insomnia symptoms, alcohol use, and suicide risk. According to Nadorff, the study was unable to prove causality. The results suggest that drinking alcohol can be interrelated with sleep disturbance, which could then lead to increased suicide risk. When researchers studied the effect of alcohol use on suicide risk after controlling for insomnia symptoms, they also found the link among females was significant.
While the findings of the study on alcoholism, insomnia and suicide are noteworthy, the study’s author says more information is needed to better clarify the relationship between the three conditions. This would translate to longitudinal studies that focus specifically on populations who are most at risk for abusing alcohol.
“By better understanding this relationship, and the mechanisms associated with increased risk, we can better design interventions to reduce suicide risk,” Nadorff states.
Sovereign Health Group of California is an addiction, mental health and dual diagnosis treatment provider, offering several locations in California as well as centers in Utah, Arizona and Florida. For more information on treatment for drugs and alcohol please call (866) 819-0427.
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