Binge drinking ups suicide risk

By Deborah Condon

Binge drinking is a major risk factor for suicide and attempted suicide, a leading Irish professor has warned.

According to Professor Patrick McKeon, medical director of St Patrick's Hospital, while studies have shown that high levels of alcohol consumption are a general risk factor for suicidal behaviours, those who binge drink 'seem to be more likely to actually attempt and in many cases, complete suicide'.

Professor McKeon made his comments at the launch of Depression Awareness Week Nationwide (DAWN), an annual campaign run by depression support group Aware. According to the organisation:

-Heavy drinkers have a five to 10-fold higher risk of suicide than the general population.

-The lifetime risk for suicide amongst alcoholics is estimated to be 15%. Among the general population, it is 1.3%.

-Heavier alcohol use among teenagers is linked with a three to four-fold increase in the risk of suicide during an individual's lifetime.

-Many alcoholics suffer major depression.

As alcohol is a depressant, it promotes depressive thoughts and feelings of hopelessness in some individuals. It also removes any inhibitions a person might usually have to harm themselves.

"Intoxication also enhances aggressive behaviour, including self-aggression and this means that suicide can become a very real option for someone who is suffering from a mood disorder. Studies have shown that the higher the alcohol consumption, the higher the rate of attempted suicide", explained Dr Conor Farren, a consultant psychiatrist at St Patrick's Hospital.

In 2003, 444 people committed suicide in Ireland. It is now the biggest killer of Irish men in the 15 - 25 age group. Experts estimate that up to 90% of suicides internationally can be traced back to depression.

Depression Awareness Week runs until September 11. Daisy Days, Aware's annual fundraiser, will run from September 9 - 11. Daily bulbs will be on sale at certain outlets nationwide, for €2 per pack. Funds raised will be used to maintain and improve existing services.

Aware services include a network of support groups throughout the country and a helpline for those in distress (1890 303 302).

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