Balancing on the edge of death: suicide attempts and life-threatening overdoses among drug addicts

Addiction. 1999 Feb;94(2):209-19. doi: 10.1046/j.1360-0443.1999.9422095.x.


Aims: Assessment of prevalence of non-fatal overdoses and suicide attempts and predictors of and co-variation between such behaviours among drug addicts.

Design: Cross-sectional survey.

Setting: Inpatient and outpatient treatment units in Norway.

Participants: National sample of 2051 drug addicts admitted to treatment in Norway in 1992-93.

Measurements: Self-reports of suicide attempts and of life-threatening overdoses from structured interviews with therapists.

Findings: Almost half (45.5%) the clients reported having experienced one or more life-threatening overdoses. A third (32.7%) reported one or more suicide attempts. Suicide attempts were more often reported among those who had overdosed (odds ratio (OR) = 6.3), and the number of life-threatening overdoses and number of suicide attempts were positively and moderately associated (Pearson's r = 0.39). Drug addicts who had exhibited both life-threatening behaviours were characterized by polydrug use, poor social functioning and HIV risk-taking behaviour. Suicide attempters were also characterized by psychiatric problems.

Conclusions: The substantial co-variation between suicide attempts and drug overdose suggests some common underlying causal factors. These seem to be related to heavy drug use and poor social integration.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Overdose
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data*