According to a new study, in a person who has bipolar disorder, alcohol may increase the risk of suicide.

New research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry suggests that people with bipolar disorder who abuse, are dependent on, or are addicted to alcohol are more likely to attempt suicide than those people with bipolar who abstain from alcohol altogether.

Dr. Maria A. Oquendo from the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University in New York, and her colleagues, found that the odds of attempting suicide in  patients with bipolar disorder are more than doubled if the individual either abuses or is dependent on alcohol.

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder affecting more than five million Americans. It is characterized by alternating periods of mania (high highs) or hypomania (a milder form of mania) and depression (low lows). 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), up to 20 percent of people with bipolar disorder will commit suicide.  Alcohol is also known to increase their risk of suicide by more than 50 percent and, according to some studies, 25 percent of substance abusers commit suicide.[1]

Oquendo and her colleagues used data from the 2001–2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC)  to identify 1,643 individuals with bipolar disorder from the 43,093 surveyed.  The NESARC is a large survey of the general population which includes questions about many areas related to substance use and mental health.

The records of the 1,643 individuals with bipolar disorder were assessed for any lifetime evidence of alcohol abuse, any history of suicidal thinking, and any history of suicide attempts.

Oquendo found that 54 percent of the individuals with bipolar disorder also reported alcohol abuse.  The odds of a suicide attempt were higher (odds ratio 2.25) in the patients with bipolar disorder who abused alcohol than in those who did not.

The study researchers also found that the patients with bipolar disorder who abused alcohol were more likely to also use tobacco or to abuse other substances.  However, neither tobacco nor other substance abuse appeared to have an affect on suicide risk in this study.

“Given the high disease burden suffered by these individuals and the increased risk for morbidity and mortality when bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder are comorbid, targeting them for treatment is a public health imperative,” according to Oquendo.

Oquendo’s results are published in the July issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Source:  Journal of Clinical Psychiatry