Newswise — Binge drinking when mixed with depression and stressful events may predict suicidal behavior among teens, according to a new findings based on a survey of Buffalo, N.Y., high schoolers.

Binge drinking was an important predictor of actual suicide attempts as compared to suicidal thoughts, even after accounting for high levels of depression and stress, according to Michael Windle, Ph.D., of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The findings appear in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Such behavior may be a better predictor of actual suicide attempts "because binge drinking episodes frequently precede serious suicide attempts," Windle says.

Depressed teens were also more likely than other teens to report suicidal thoughts and attempts and to say they had told others about their suicide plans, Windle found. Stressful life events, from a parent dying to failing a class, were also good predictors of suicidal thoughts and attempts.

Windle surveyed 1,218 sophomores and juniors at several Buffalo high schools to determine how a variety of factors, including drinking patterns, emotional support from family and individual temperament, might be used to predict suicidal behavior among teens.

The percentage of adolescents with suicidal thoughts was 28 percent. About 13 percent of the teens told someone about their suicidal thoughts and 4 percent of the total group attempted suicide.

Teens who said they drank to "cope" or "relax," who had a high percentage of drinking friends or who said they had low levels of family support were more likely to report stressful events, depression and bingeing, the research found.

The links between drinking and suicidal behavior are probably complex, according to Windle. For instance, high levels of drinking among teens may be related to coping strategies and a family history of alcoholism, which could provoke stressful events. An increase in stressful events "in turn, may contribute to higher levels of depression and increased drinking to self-medicate depressed mood states," Windle says.

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among 14-18 year olds in the United States. The suicide rate among that age group has doubled since 30 years ago, the study noted.

The study was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (May-2004)