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Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2013 Oct;48(10):1611-20. doi: 10.1007/s00127-013-0721-z. Epub 2013 Jun 7.

The risk of adolescent suicide across patterns of drug use: a nationally representative study of high school students in the United States from 1999 to 2009.

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Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA,



Substance use is associated with suicidal ideation, planning and attempts among adolescents, but it is unclear how this association varies across different types and number of substances. This study examined the association between patterns of substance use and suicidality among a nationally representative sample of high school students in the United States during the last decade.


Data from the 2001 to 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey including 73,183 high school students were analyzed. Logistic regression analyses examined the association between lifetime use of ten common substances of abuse (alcohol, cocaine, ecstasy, hallucinogens, heroin, inhalants, marijuana, methamphetamines, steroids, and tobacco) and four measures of suicidality over the last year (suicidal ideation, suicide plan, suicide attempt, and severe suicide attempt requiring medical attention), controlling for potential confounders (socio-demographic variables, interpersonal violence, sexual intercourse, and symptoms of depression and eating disorder).


Among the ten substances, univariate analysis demonstrates that adolescents reporting a history of heroin use have the strongest association with suicidal ideation, suicide plan, suicide attempts and severe suicide attempts in the last year (odds ratio = 5.0, 5.9, 12.0, and 23.6 compared to non-users), followed by users of methamphetamines (OR = 4.3-13.1) and steroids (OR = 3.7-11.8). Cocaine, ecstasy, hallucinogens and inhalants had a moderate association with suicidality (OR = 3.1-10.8). Users of marijuana, alcohol and tobacco also had an increased odds ratio of suicidality (OR = 1.9-5.2). The association between each of ten substances and the four measures of suicidality remained significant with multivariate analysis controlling for multiple confounders (p < 0.05), except for the association between alcohol use and severe suicide attempts. The seven illicit substances had a stronger association with severe suicide attempts as compared to all other confounding risk factors except depression. The number of substances used had a graded relationship to suicidality.


Substance abuse is a strong risk factor for suicidal thoughts and behaviors among American high school students, with the strength of this relationship dramatically increasing with particular illicit drugs and a higher number of substances. The findings reinforce the importance of routine screening for substance abuse in the assessment of adolescent suicide risk.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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