Alcohol, suicide and insomnia: What’s the connection?

Woman with sleep disorder

Insomnia, alcohol use, and suicide risk might all be interrelated. According to a recent study, insomnia symptoms appear to affect the relationship between alcohol consumption and risk of suicide.

“Across the board, we found that a significant amount of the relationship between alcohol and suicide risk was explained by insomnia symptoms,” says principal investigator Michael Nadorff, PhD, an assistant professor at Mississippi State University.

For the study, researchers looked at 375 undergrad students at a large U.S. university in the southeast. Participants were required to complete questionnaires regarding insomnia symptoms, alcohol use, and suicide risk. According to Nadorff, the study was unable to prove causality. However, the results suggest that drinking alcohol leads to poor sleep, which could then lead to increased suicide risk.

When researchers studied the effect of alcohol use on suicide risk after controlling for insomnia symptoms, they also found an interesting gender difference. For female participants, the link was still significant. (Men showed no such relationship.)

Nadorff says that while the findings are indeed noteworthy, more information is needed to better clarify the relationship between insomnia, alcohol use and suicide risk. This would translate to longitudinal studies that focus specifically on populations who are most at risk for abusing alcohol.

This study isn’t the first aimed at better understanding the role alcohol plays in suicide. According to a 2014 UCLA study, one-third of all suicides in the U.S. are preceded by acute alcohol use. The same research found that people who commit suicide are anywhere from four to 20 times more likely to have had a history of heavy drinking.

Insomnia has also long been linked to a wide variety of health problems, including heart disease, obesity and mood disorders. Poor sleep also lends itself to decreased alertness and drowsy driving.

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