Women Veterans With Substance Use Disorders Are At Five Times higher risk of suicide than peers

Veterans who struggle with drug or alcohol problems are more than twice as likely to commit suicide as compared to their fellow service members. Moreover, women veterans with substance use disorders are more than five times more likely to commit suicide than their peers, according to research.

According to the study, the risk of suicide varies based on the substance that the veteran uses abusively.

Those who misuse prescription sedative drugs like tranquilizers have the highest suicide risk. The study discovers that women veterans who abuse opioid painkillers have a remarkably high risk of suicide.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and the Department of Veterans Affairs found that veterans who had both mental health concerns and drug use issues may account for a large portion of the difference in suicide risks. Their findings were published in the journal Addiction.

A Cabinet-level executive branch agency of the federal government, the Department of Veterans Affairs oversees providing lifelong healthcare services to qualified military veterans at the 170 VA hospital facilities and outpatient clinics scattered across the nation.

Substance use disorders may be important markers of suicide risk

The latest findings, however, they claim, show that efforts should be made to avoid veteran suicide among individuals who have substance use problems, particularly if they also have depression, schizophrenia, bipolar illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety.

The most comprehensive study ever conducted on substance use disorders and suicide—which included more than 4.4 million veterans—provided the latest findings.

“We hope these findings will help clinicians and health systems care for people with substance use disorders, with mental health conditions, and with both — and focus suicide prevention efforts accordingly,” says Kipling Bohnert, Ph.D., lead author of the study and researcher with the VA Centre for Clinical Management Research who is also an assistant professor of psychiatry at the U-M Medical School. “Substance use disorders may be important markers for suicide risk.”

Firearm safety is important to reduce the toll of suicide

Veterans commit suicide at a rate of twenty per day, which is substantially higher than the average for the general population.

The researchers also stress that weapon safety is vital in attempts to lessen the toll of suicide on those who have served the nation because two-thirds of the suicides in the study included firearms. Intentional poisoning accounted for 25% of suicides among veterans with substance use disorders, underscoring the need for prevention methods for this type of suicide in this population.

However, because records aren’t centralised like they are at the VA, it is more difficult to investigate people outside the VA in the same way, according to the researchers, who believe their findings may also have ramifications for the general population.

Specific substances that increase suicide risk

The Department of Veterans Affairs data of a sizable group of veterans who attended a VA provider in 2004 and 2005 were examined by Bohnert and his colleagues from the Department of Veterans Affairs, U-M Addiction Centre, and U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. Over the following six years, they monitored suicides among this group.

Overall, the cohort had 8.3% of males and 3.4% of women with a substance use problem listed on their list of diagnoses in 2004-2005. And during the years of follow-up, 9,087 veterans in the study group committed suicide.

The team calculated suicide rates per 100,000 veterans using statistical methods, and they then calculated those rates for veterans with substance use issues generally and for substance use disorders.

In all, veterans with any type of substance use disorder had a suicide rate of 75.6 per 100,000, compared to 34.7 for all veterans. Veterans who were tracked from 1999 to 2006 were shown to have similar higher rates in a prior study performed by co-author Mark Ilgen, Ph.D.

The current study, however, enables the researchers to focus on the precise drugs that veterans had issues with, such as alcohol, painkillers, marijuana, and cocaine.

Misuse of sedatives too are big risk for suicide

According to the study, the risk of suicide was highest among veterans of both sexes who mishandled sedatives (171.4 per 100,000), and it was especially high among women who mishandled opioids (98.6 per 100,000). The overuse of prescription opioids and issues with other non-prescription opioids, such as heroin, were difficult for the researchers to separate.

The suicide rate among men who abused amphetamines was 95 per 100,000. The study was unable to determine whether they were abusing methamphetamine or prescription amphetamines, such as those prescribed for attention deficit disorder.

Both genders had a higher rate of suicide even after differences in physical and mental health

The risk of suicide by kind of substance use disorder was then determined, considering the veterans’ ages and the general seriousness of their medical issues. However, most of the initial associations persisted. This somewhat decreased the extent of the difference in suicide risks.

The picture altered when researchers considered diagnoses of mental illness. Independent of mental and physical health, only alcohol and opioid disorders were still linked to an increased risk of suicide in women. Additionally, there were fewer differences between males and women.

However, even after variations in physical and mental health were considered, substance use problems were associated with a higher rate of suicide in both sexes.

In all, says Bohnert, “Assessment and treatment of co-existing psychiatric conditions, in addition to substance use, may be important in lowering the risk of suicide among individuals who have substance use disorders.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Kipling M. Bohnert, Mark A. Ilgen, Samantha Louzon, John F. McCarthy, Ira R. Katz. Substance use disorders and the risk of suicide mortality among men and women in the US Veterans Health Administration. Addiction, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/add.13774

Page citation:

Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan. “Drug and alcohol problems linked to increased veteran suicide risk, especially in women: Findings point to the need for more suicide prevention efforts among veterans with substance use disorders, especially those who also have mental health conditions.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 March 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170316092949.htm>.

Help is here:

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Name of the Organisation: Vandrevala Foundation
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