Posted on September 22, 2015 in Addiction

When Alcohol Causes Insomnia, Suicide Is More Likely

Alcohol consumers affected by insomnia have increased chances of contemplating suicide or attempting suicide, according to recent findings from a team of American researchers.

Doctors and researchers know that people who habitually drink alcohol in significant amounts have heightened risks for insomnia; they also know that people heavily impacted by insomnia may have heightened risks for developing diagnosable alcohol problems. In addition, alcohol consumption is linked to statistically increased odds of suicide in several segments of the population. In a study published in December 2014 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, researchers from four U.S. institutions sought to establish the nature of the causal connection between alcohol use, insomnia and suicide in both men and women who drink.

Alcohol Use and Insomnia

Alcohol depresses or slows down communication inside the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), and thereby acts as a sedative. For this reason, some people affected by insomnia consume alcohol as part of an attempt to circumvent their sleeping problems. Unfortunately, alcohol consumption can actually decrease the likelihood that a person will get restful sleep. This is true because alcohol produces its sedative effects only in early hours of sleep; in later hours of sleep, the substance disturbs the brain’s sleep-related signals and makes it harder to avoid periodically waking up.

Significant numbers of people affected by recurring insomnia may consume enough alcohol to substantially increase their chances of developing alcohol use disorder (diagnosable alcohol abuse and/or alcohol addiction). In addition, people already addicted to alcohol have a high rate of exposure to insomnia and other forms of sleep disturbance when they stop drinking and enter alcohol withdrawal. Disturbed sleep in a person going through alcohol withdrawal is sometimes associated with hallucinations and other highly distressing symptoms. For this reason, sleeping problems may act as significant underlying contributors to the overall risks for a relapse back into active alcohol consumption.

Alcohol Use and Suicide

Alcohol intake and suicide risks are intertwined in a number of ways, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports. For example, adult drinkers have increased chances of contemplating suicide if they get depressed. When the figures under consideration do not include motor vehicle accidents, more than one-fifth of all Americans who die while legally drunk are suicide victims. In addition, large numbers of people who survive suicide attempts meet the criteria used to diagnose alcohol use disorder. Broadly speaking, teenagers and young adults have higher alcohol-related suicide risks than older adults. Alcohol-related suicide was even more of a concern among young adults before states through the U.S. raised the minimum legal drinking age to 21.

What’s the Link?

In the study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, researchers from Mississippi State University, the Baylor College of Medicine, the Emory School of Medicine and the Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center used data gathered from 375 college students to explore the connection between alcohol consumption, insomnia-related sleeping problems and the odds of thinking about suicide or making a suicide attempt. All of the participants submitted information through an online questionnaire that addressed individual patterns of alcohol consumption, individual exposure to the symptoms of insomnia, individual exposure to nightmares and level of involvement in suicidal thinking or action.

After analyzing the collected data, the researchers concluded that the presence of insomnia forms a link in the causal chain that leads from alcohol consumption to suicidal thought and action. Essentially, this means that alcohol consumers have higher chances of contemplating or attempting suicide when their sleeping patterns are impacted by notable symptoms of insomnia. The researchers found that the young men enrolled in the study did not have significantly elevated alcohol-related suicide risks when they had no problems with insomnia. However, the researchers also found that, among the young women enrolled in the study, alcohol consumption was linked to increased suicide risks even in those individuals unaffected by insomnia.

The study’s authors found a statistically meaningful link between the presence of nightmares and increased chances of contemplating or attempting suicide. However, this link apparently has nothing to do with whether an individual imbibes alcohol.

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