Treat alcohol-related hospital admissions like self-harm

People admitted to hospital in an emergency for alcohol-related reasons are at significantly higher risk of suicide and should be treated by hospital staff in a similar way to people who have self-harmed, according to a new report.

The study by Public Health Wales, Cardiff University and Swansea University, who reported on it, found they were twenty seven times more likely to go on to take their own life compared with those who had not been admitted for alcohol-related reasons.

Although the total number of suicides was greater in men, the risk increase was greater in women, who had a twenty nine times greater risk. The risk was ten times greater for men.

The risk of suicide was greatest in people with mental health difficulties, but an increased risk was also associated with people with no previously reported mental health issues.

Dr Bethan Bowden, from Public Health Wales, said “For the first time we know that emergency alcohol-related hospital admission is associated with an increased risk of suicide – especially for women. This is important because patients, many of whom will have no previously reported mental health concerns, could be being treated without exploring underlying issues linked to an increased risk of suicide. Hospital staff are in a unique position to assess patients who may not otherwise come forward for help. Our advice to clinicians is that these patients should be treated similarly to those who have been identified as self-harming: undertake a psycho-social assessment, and refer them to mental health services if appropriate. This study indicates a need to consider targeted interventions for patients admitted to hospital with an alcohol-related condition as part of a suicide prevention strategy.”

Alcohol use is known to be associated with a higher risk of future suicide, but this is the first study to identify the association with emergency alcohol-related admissions.

The study, published in PLOS One, followed all Welsh residents aged between ten and a hundred for six years. It looked at everyone admitted to hospital with an emergency alcohol-related admission, including acute intoxication, alcohol dependence, and physical health complications related to alcohol use.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in the UK for men aged between twenty and forty nine and women aged between twenty and thirty four.

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