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American Indians at Heightened Risk for Suicide After Heavy Drinking

TUESDAY, Feb. 5 (HealthDay News) -- American Indians are at much greater risk than other ethnic groups for suicide following acute alcohol intoxication, according to a new study.

Suicide is a particular problem among young American Indian and Alaska Native people, the study found, with 22 percent of those who committed suicide younger than 21 and half of them younger than 29.

Alcohol-related prevention strategies should focus on suicide as a consequence of alcohol use, particularly among American Indian and Alaska Native young adults, the researchers said.

Using data compiled from 2003 to 2009 by the National Violent Death Reporting System, the researchers examined the demographic and toxicology reports for more than 59,000 people from 16 states who committed suicide. Of these, 76 percent had their blood tested for alcohol. Acute alcohol intoxication at the time of death was defined as having a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher.

Alcohol use and intoxication before suicide was particularly common among American Indian and Alaska Native populations, the data revealed. To some extent, alcohol use was also more common among Latinos who committed suicide, compared to whites. Alcohol use was less prevalent among blacks and Asians who committed suicide.

The study was published online Feb. 4 and appears in the May print issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"We showed considerable differences across ethnic groups in the association between alcohol intoxication and suicide and types of suicide," study corresponding author Raul Caetano, professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas, said in a journal news release. "Although alcohol intoxication is important for all groups, American Indians are much more at risk than other groups."

Heavier drinkers are more at risk too, Caetano said, and alcohol treatment facilities and clinicians should take their higher suicide risk -- especially for those who are depressed -- into account.

"Addressing cultural, economic and other barriers to alcohol treatment in these populations could simultaneously reduce the prevalence of both alcohol problems and suicide," Sarah Zemore, a scientist at the Alcohol Research Group and an associate adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said in the news release.

Other strategies most likely to work include increasing alcohol taxation and reducing local concentration of outlets for obtaining alcohol, Zemore said.

Threats or insinuations of suicide should be taken seriously, particularly when alcohol is involved, the researchers pointed out.

"Family and friends play an important role here, as people intending to commit suicide often fail to seek formal help -- though they do often inform their social circle in some manner," Zemore said.

Previous research has linked alcohol use to suicide and attempted suicide. The study authors noted, however, that the reason alcohol abuse increases the risk for suicide remains unclear.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about alcohol use and health.

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