Suicide in alcohol-dependent individuals: epidemiology and management

CNS Drugs. 2004;18(7):423-36. doi: 10.2165/00023210-200418070-00002.


The association of alcohol dependence with suicidal behaviour is well established although complex. On the basis of epidemiological and clinical evidence, alcohol dependence is known to increase the risk for suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and completed suicide. However, this risk is modulated by a wide variety of factors including sociodemographic, clinical, treatment-related and life situational characteristics as well as current drinking status and the effect of inebriation. Treatment and management of patients with alcohol dependence and concomitant suicidal communication or suicide attempts is crucial, as is the recognition of these patients in emergency and other healthcare service contacts. The treatment strategies cannot be based on evidence derived from randomised clinical trials as such data do not exist. They must rather be based on current knowledge of risk factors for suicidal behaviour, efficacy of treatment for alcohol dependence or relevant co-morbid conditions and problems known to be common in treatment settings. In this article, we review the essential literature on the epidemiological and clinical research in the areas of alcohol dependence and suicidal behaviour. On the basis of current data and clinical experience, we suggest the following principles be followed in the management of alcohol-dependent individuals: (i) suicidal threats or communication by alcohol-dependent individuals in emergency and other contacts should be taken seriously; (ii) other mental disorders should be well evaluated, a consequent treatment plan initiated and follow-up arranged; (iii) appropriate and up-to-date pharmacological treatment should focus on both reducing the amount of drinking and treating symptoms of other mental disorders; (iv) psychotherapeutic efforts should be focused on emerging symptoms of both alcohol use and other mental disorders; and (v) known epidemiological and clinical risk factors, adverse life events in particular, should be recognised and taken into account.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / complications*
  • Alcoholism / therapy*
  • Comorbidity
  • Humans
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data*