Adults at higher risk of suicide attempt if parent abused alcohol, research finds

May 6, 2014

People who grew up with a parent who abused alcohol may be 85 percent more likely to attempt suicide than people whose parents did not abuse alcohol, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Furthermore, having divorced parents increased by 14 percent the risk that a person would try to take his or her own life when compared to people whose parents did not divorce, the study found. But putting those two factors together - parents who abuse and are divorced—did not increase suicide attempts, according to the study, coming out in the May issue of APA's American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

"These findings underscore the need for comprehensive client and family assessments by clinicians to identify people in particular need of early interventions," said lead author Dana Alonzo, PhD, of Columbia University. "Individuals whose parents were divorced or abused alcohol might be more vulnerable for suicide than those from intact or nonalcoholic households. Prevention and treatment efforts need to target groups that are accurately identified as at risk."

Researchers examined data from a 2001-2002 Department of Health and Human Services survey of 43,093 people 18 years old or older who were interviewed in person. A total of 13,753 participants reported they had suffered major depression at some point in their life and of those, 1,073 said they had attempted suicide. In the group that reported attempted suicide, 25 percent said they had parents who divorced and 46 percent said one or both parents abused alcohol. From the full sample, 2.4 percent reported a , 16 percent reported their parents were divorced and 21 percent said at least one parent had abused alcohol.

As for why homes disrupted by a combination of divorce and drinking didn't lead to more risk of attempted suicides, the authors speculated that divorce may have decreased hostility at home and therefore didn't contribute to a child's becoming a maladjusted adult. "Or, it may be that children with an alcoholic parent are not as surprised when their parents split up because they have already witnessed so much conflict, so it may not lead to as much confusion and resentment as it might in a better-functioning family," Alonzo said.

The researchers assessed participants' history of depression by asking if they ever felt sad over a period lasting at least two weeks; had they stopped caring about things important to them; or did they no longer enjoy their favorite things. Other questions were based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria for depression. To determine if a participant's parent had abused alcohol, researchers read definitions from the DSM criteria for alcohol abuse, including readily observable behaviors, and asked participants if they had witnessed those behaviors by their mother or father.

The study was the first with a nationally representative sample to examine whether having divorced or a parent who abused alcohol affects the likelihood of attempts, according to the authors.

The full sample was 48 percent male, 71 percent white, 11 percent black, 2 percent Native American, 4 percent Asian-American and 12 percent Hispanic. In terms of age, 22 percent were 18 to 29, 31 percent were 30 to 44, 31 percent were 45 to 64 and 16 percent were 65 or older. People married or living with someone accounted for 62 percent, 17 percent were widowed, separated or divorced and 21 percent were never married. Regarding education, 16 percent had not graduated from high school, 29 percent had a high school degree and 55 percent had attended some college.

Explore further: Using substances at school may be cry for help

More information: "The Influence of Parental Divorce and Alcohol Abuse on Adult Offpsring Risk of Lifetime Suicide Attempt in the United States," Dana Alonzo, PhD, and G. Thompson, PhD, Columbia University; Malka Stohl, MS, New York State Psychiatric Institute; Deborah Hasin, PhD, Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, May 2014.

Related Stories

Using substances at school may be cry for help

May 3, 2014
When teens are caught drinking or using marijuana at school, a trip to the dean's office may not suffice. These students also should be screened for exposure to trauma, mental health problems and other serious health risks, ...

Hispanic teens more likely to abuse drugs, survey finds

August 20, 2013
(HealthDay)—Hispanic teens are more likely to abuse illegal and legal drugs than their black or white peers, a new report finds.

Almost one-third of Canadian adults have experienced child abuse

April 22, 2014
Almost one-third of adults in Canada have experienced child abuse—physical abuse, sexual abuse or exposure to intimate partner (parents, step-parents or guardians) violence in their home. As well, child abuse is linked ...

Parental messages that stress no alcohol do get through, survey finds

April 1, 2014
(HealthDay)—Making it clear to your teen that underage drinking is unacceptable is a highly effective way to reduce the risk that he or she will use alcohol, a new survey shows.

What makes psychotic teens more at risk for suicide than other groups with psychosis?

April 24, 2014
Suicide is a general risk for people with psychosis. According to the Journal of Psychiatry, 20 percent to 40 percent of those diagnosed with psychosis attempt suicide, and up to 10 percent succeed.

Teens in child welfare system show higher drug abuse rate

November 4, 2013
Teenagers in the child welfare system are at higher-than-average risk of abusing marijuana, inhalants and other drugs, according to a study in the November issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Recommended for you

Many kinds of happiness promote better health, study finds

July 21, 2017
A new study links the capacity to feel a variety of upbeat emotions to better health.

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

Study finds gene variant increases risk for depression

July 20, 2017
A University of Central Florida study has found that a gene variant, thought to be carried by nearly 25 percent of the population, increases the odds of developing depression.

In making decisions, are you an ant or a grasshopper?

July 20, 2017
In one of Aesop's famous fables, we are introduced to the grasshopper and the ant, whose decisions about how to spend their time affect their lives and future. The jovial grasshopper has a blast all summer singing and playing, ...

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

Old antibiotic could form new depression treatment

July 19, 2017
An antibiotic used mostly to treat acne has been found to improve the quality of life for people with major depression, in a world-first clinical trial conducted at Deakin University.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.