Bipolar Substance Abusers Twice As Likely to Attempt Suicide

By Paul Gaita 06/18/14

The combination of mental illness and substance abuse has greater potential to drive one over the edge.

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A new study has suggested that individuals who suffer from both bipolar disorder and alcohol or substance abuse issues are twice as likely to attempt suicide than patients who do not have a similar combination of problems.

The results of the study, published in the June 7, 2014 online edition of the Journal of Affective Disorders, were a compilation of data taken from 29 studies conducted with more than 30,000 individuals, all of whom had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Six thousand participants in those test groups, or 20.1% of all subjects, had also attempted suicide.

In nearly all of the studies, the odds ratio of those bipolar patients who claimed both a lifetime history of substance abuse and a suicide attempt was between 1.64 and 1.96 times more likely than those without a similar comorbidity or the presence of one or more disorders, including behavioral or mental disorders, co-occurring with a primary disease.

Data on which substances were cited by patients involved in the study was limited, but four of the pooled studies drew a link between lifetime cannabis use and bipolar individuals, who were shown to be 1.44 times likely to attempt suicide than those who did not admit to cannabis use.

The researchers pointed to this statistic as credible evidence that prolonged cannabis use can “have serious consequences for individuals with [bipolar disorder],” which runs contrary to findings in other medical research and media. How alcohol and substance abuse affect the number of suicide attempts, as well as the nature of the attempt (i.e., how violent), remains inconclusive.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.