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Curtin University
National Drug Research Institute

Preventing Harmful Drug Use In Australia

Media Release


Date: Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Heavy substance use can double the risk of self-harm and suicide

Health professionals need to carefully assess substance use problems in anyone who presents with self-harm to reduce the chance of subsequent suicide, according to research being presented at the annual Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs (APSAD) conference in Brisbane today.

Presenting his research on Risk factors for self-harm and substance use in the general adult population, Dr Robert Tait from the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) at Curtin University in Perth said that substance use was a risk factor for both self-harm and suicide. Heavy alcohol use or current cannabis use was found to double the odds of self-harm, although childhood sexual abuse was the biggest risk factor, with a four-fold increase.

Although self-harm most commonly occurs during adolescence and early adulthood, people can start self-harming from as early as age five, right through to their sixties. The study, which involved nearly 1300 adults aged 28-36 years, found that self-harm or "non-suicidal self-injury" is a common behaviour with about 10% of people deliberately injuring themselves at some time.

"Drugs like alcohol reduce inhibitions so can increase the risk not only of self-harm, but of far more serious injuries than were intended" said Dr Robert Tait. "Unfortunately the stigma around self-harm means that it is poorly understood and often dismissed as just 'attention seeking'. Yet the association with subsequent suicide, especially following self-harm by older adults, means that it should always be treated seriously by health professionals."

ENDS

Dr Robert Tait will be presenting his paper Risk factors for self-harm and substance use in the general adult population at 2.30pm on Wednesday 27 November.

Further Information:

Dr Robert Tait
Senior Research Fellow, National Drug Research Institute
Curtin University
Phone: +61 (8) 9266 1610
Mobile: 0406 878 517

Vic Rechichi
Communications Officer, National Drug Research Institute
Curtin University
Phone: 61 (0)8 9266 1627
Mobile: 0414 682 055

Rachael Lobo
Communications Officer, National Drug Research Institute
Curtin University
Phone: 61 (0)8 9266 1627
Mobile: 0400 218831