Franklin James Cook

Alcohol Screening Linked to Youth Suicide Prevention

In Prevention, Research on May 9, 2009 at 6:52 am

In a May8 Reuters article, reporter Joene Hendry summarizes findings from a University of Connecticut Health Center study that demonstrates “adolescents who drink alcohol while sad or depressed have an increased risk of attempting suicide, whether or not they have previously had suicidal thoughts.”

The findings have implications for screening adolescents for suicide, especially when suicide might be impulsive.

Among adolescents not reporting prior suicidal thoughts, “drinking while ‘down’ was associated with a 3-fold increase in risk,” said [Dr. Elizabeth] Schilling.

Suicide prevention is challenging when youths do not show suicidal ideas before attempting suicide … so screening young people to see if they tend to drink alcohol while depressed may provide “an alternative avenue for identification and early intervention.”

As the study itself points out, “the absence of suicidal thoughts may signify the absence of depression or less severe depressive symptomatology that may evade detection through commonly used screening instruments, which typically include questions about suicidal thoughts and previous suicidal behavior.”

The full text of the study is available from the Journal of Adolescent Health. The study concludes that “the use of alcohol while sad or depressed [is] a marker for suicidal behavior in adolescents who may not engage in planning or ideating prior to an attempt, and hence, may not be detected by current strategies for assessing suicide risk.”

Although problematic use of alcohol among adolescents is readily detectable using current screening approaches … routine screening for adolescent alcohol use by pediatricians and family practitioners is not universally practiced despite the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine. Findings from this study should provide further impetus for alcohol and drug screening among pediatricians and family practitioners beyond that motivated by concerns about alcohol and substance use.

[The abridged URL for this post is http://tinyurl.com/AlcoholScreening .]

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