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Drug abuse tied to 'fatal despondency'.

Drug abuse tied to 'fatal despondency'

Drug abuse may play a far more important role in causing suicide, particularly among young people, than many researchers have assumed, says psychiatrist Charles L. Rich of the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

In an ongoing investigation of 133 consecutive suicides of people under age 30 and 150 consecutive suicides age 30 and over in San Diego (SN:6/8/88, p.390), Rich and his coworkers identified about two-thirds of the cases as substance abusers. Younger suicides most commonly abused marijuana, alcohol, cocaine and amphetamines or combinations of these drugs. Older suicides were less likely to abuse illicit drugs, but just over half were heavy drinkers or alcoholics, a level comparable to that of the younger group.

Substance abuse proved a longstanding problem for most of the people in the sample, Rich points out, ranging from an average of about 11 years for those abusing illicit drugs with or without alcohol to 28 years for "pure" alcoholics.

The most common psychiatric disorder found among substance abusers of all ages was moderate depression. Many of those who did not meet all psychiatric criteria for depression were reported to have had symptoms such as a low mood and thoughts of death, Rich says. The researchers made the psychiatric diagnoses posthumously after interviews with a suicide victim's family, friends, employers and physicians, and checking hospital, school and police records.

It appears drug abuse contributes to a "fatal despondency" that culminates in suicide in many cases, Rich contends. The most commonly abused drugs in the San Diego sample -- including the stimulants -- can cause depression or worsen preexisting depression, he says.
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Title Annotation:Behavior
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:May 27, 1989
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