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Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2000 Dec;21(4):330-4.

A review of postmortem alcohol detection as a diagnostic test for substance abuse disorders in suicides.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of South Alabama, Mobile 36617-2293, USA.


To assess the role of toxicologic detection of alcohol to diagnose substance abuse disorders in suicides, the author reviewed suicide studies with both comprehensive toxicologic and diagnostic data. The sensitivity of alcohol detection to diagnose alcohol and substance abuse disorders in suicides was low in all studies (range, 39%-42%), and the specificity was 80%-95%. A higher cutoff level for alcohol did not increase diagnostic performance. The author concludes that toxicologic detection of alcohol is not a reliable indicator of alcohol and substance abuse disorders in suicides because of the high rate of false-negatives. Most of the suicides with positive alcohol detection seem to suffer from chronic substance abuse problems. The role of intoxication is difficult to assess because of methodologic problems.

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