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April 1990

The Lifetime Risk of Suicide in Alcoholism

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Mo.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1990;47(4):383-392. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1990.01810160083012

• Current estimates of the lifetime risk of suicide in alcoholism (11% to 15%) are shown statistically to be untenable. Examination of the mortality from suicide in all published follow-up studies of alcoholics containing the requisite data permits calculation of a much smaller lifetime suicide risk: about 2% in untreated and 2.21% in outpatient-treated probands. Studies of alcoholics identified from hospital admissions yield a lifetime risk of about 3.4% for the United States, the United Kingdom, and other English-speaking countries. It is higher in the Scandinavian and European countries with high suicide rates, but not in those with low national suicide rates. The population at risk is shown to be about half of that commonly estimated, and consists of seriously affected alcoholics. While the annual incidence of suicide in the United States is about 1.3% currently, only that quarter of the population identifiably psychiatrically ill is at significant risk. Despite the seemingly miniscule lifetime risk of 2% to 3.4%, the likelihood of suicide in conservatively diagnosed alcoholism is between 60 and 120 times that of the non-psychiatrically ill. Such alcoholism contributes about 25% of the suicides.

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