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Alcohol and Suicide

Estimated reading time: 29 minute(s)

Alcohol use has become a common norm in the United States and the rest of the world. Every significant milestone, such as holidays, birthdays, and weddings, involves a toast and lots of alcohol. Despite its association with happy moments in life, the use of alcohol in real life is quite saddening. It has frequently been associated with an increased risk of suicide by making self-regulation more challenging and impairing decision-making skills. Therefore, it is imperative to understand this crucial risk to easily manage it.

Alcoholism and Suicide Statistics

Alcohol use has been associated with many suicides and attempted suicides. Statistics suggest that:

  • A diagnosis of alcohol dependence and misuse has been linked with a suicide risk that is 10-fold higher than the one in the general public
  • Of people who received treatment following a suicide attempt, alcohol misuse was found to be an important factor. Up to 40 percent of these are under alcohol intoxication all the time.
  • Alcohol intoxication is connected with up to 22 percent of all suicidal deaths.

Alcohol and Suicide: What is the Connection?

Many people have a connection with suicide in today’s world. Suicide alone claims thousands of lives every year, be it a close personal or professional relationship. In the year 2019, approximately 47,500 Americans succumbed to suicide, with around one-third of these cases connected to alcohol use.

A lot of people rely on alcohol as a form of self-medication. Whether they are suffering from depression, anxiety, or any other mental issue or personality disorder, they often use alcohol as a coping mechanism to fight its symptoms and effects. The chronic use of alcohol, however, often leads to dependence, tolerance, and, ultimately, addiction. When this happens, alcohol becomes a strain on their lives instead of being an aid. It not only physically affects a user’s body but also messes with their jobs, relationships, and everyday responsibilities.

Alcoholism carries the power to destroy a person even if they have no previous history of health problems. It can easily make anyone take their own life, especially those already experiencing underlying health issues. Many people falsely believe it provides temporary relief from suicidal ideals. However, in reality, consuming it only makes things exponentially worse. In most cases, moderate- to long-term use of alcohol makes suicidal ideation powerful and more frequent, leading to an increased risk of suicidal attempts. In addition, alcohol abuse also worsens other factors contributing to suicide. For instance, using alcohol may exacerbate the symptoms of a pre-existing mental condition, such as depression, borderline personality disorder, and bipolar disorder, all of which contribute to suicidal ideation.[1]

Alcohol and Suicide: Are There Any Age-Related Patterns?

In general, young adults and adolescents are at very high risk for attempted suicide worldwide. [2] In contrast, this risk is considerably low in men over 65; however, they are at the greatest risk for completing their suicidal attempts. These facts confirm that there are multiple patterns related to suicide and age. Further studies exploring this topic have found that older people tend to attempt suicide more often, whether or not they have a substance use problem. These results suggest that it is not suitable to place all ages into a single group while gauging the suicide risks in both alcoholics and non-alcoholics.

Older adults are much more vulnerable to getting drunk and experiencing suicidal ideations because of a combination of factors. These factors include increased isolation, depression, and ongoing health issues, in addition to their alcohol use. The physical and emotional toll their alcohol use takes on their bodies also puts them at a very high risk of suicide.

Warning signs of a Suicidal Alcoholic

The best way to help yourself in the current situation of alcohol and suicide fiasco is by making yourself aware of the warning signs of suicide. If you have someone who has a problem with alcohol and is exhibiting a few or more of the following signs, considers discussing with them to know the situation and encourage them to seek help timely:

  • Constantly talking about ending life
  • Withdrawing from friends and family members
  • Expressing feelings of guilt and shame
  • Describing themselves as a burden to others
  • Having sudden mood changes
  • Expressing feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or sadness
  • Using alcohol or drugs more frequently than ever
  • Changes in sleep pattern

Talk to a doctor or connect with an alcoholism and suicide helpline to get the help you need if you are exhibiting the symptoms mentioned above. If you feel like you or a loved one is in immediate danger, consider contacting emergency services.

How to Help a Suicidal Alcoholic: Treatment for Alcoholism and Suicide

If someone you know has been battling alcoholism for a long time and has started expressing thoughts of ending their life, know that their life can be in danger if you do not do anything about it. There are plenty of ways to help such people stop alcohol abuse and prevent suicide. Experts agree that a combination of substance abuse and mental health treatment is the best way to help these people recover.

As per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a specific program that equips people with life and skills training and provides support can protect them from substance abuse and suicide at the same time. For such people, identifying and managing alcoholism is imperative to prevent a possible suicide attempt, whereas a failure to do so can increase their mortality and morbidity.

The behavioral approaches that a rehab uses for managing alcoholism must include certain therapeutic elements to make it more beneficial, such as goal setting, social skills training, and relapse prevention awareness. Some popular and highly effective evidence-based approaches for alcohol and suicide management include the following:

Brief Interventions

This approach involves a counselor who provides feedback to clients about their risks and habits and helps them identify their goals for treatment. In this way, these counselors help individuals form an effective plan to stop drinking and minimize the risk of suicide.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This form of therapy can take place in one-to-one and group settings and aims to help people identify their maladaptive feelings, behaviors, and thoughts contributing to alcoholism and suicidal tendencies. The goal of this therapy is to replace these negative thoughts and behaviors with healthier coping skills and thoughts to get a good grasp on their life and avoid relapses in the future.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy

Motivational enhancement therapy is a short-term treatment that aims to support an individual to stop drinking. As a part of these sessions, clients work with a therapist to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of seeking and complying with treatment. They also establish a plan of action to quit drinking and avoid suicidal thoughts and develop the skills they need to stick to it.

Marital and Family Counseling

In most cases, the spouses and family members of the drinkers also take influenced by their alcoholism. Hence, it becomes essential to include them in a treatment plan. Both family and marital counseling aim to repair and strengthen relationships. In this way, many alcoholics find the support they need to overcome their drinking habits and are less likely to resort to suicidal thoughts and actions.

Suicide by Alcohol Poisoning: How to Reduce Risk for Yourself?

Keep the following tips in mind to keep your risk of suicide due to alcohol poisoning in check:

  • Think about the risk factors related to alcohol and suicide and reflect on how they can affect you
  • Consider your social circle and think about their drinking habits
  • Make sure you are aware of your limits and always monitor your alcohol intake every time you decide to drink
  • If you decide to consume alcohol, have the plan to ensure you stay well within the safe drinking limits. Rely on a trusted family member or friend by letting them know of your plan and request them to check on you from time to time

Always evaluate your emotional state before you consume alcohol. For example, if you have recently been through a stressful time or are having a tough time at the moment, postpone the idea of drinking as it may increase the risk of overconsumption and increase suicidal tendencies.

Try finding alternatives to using alcohol by thinking about the reason behind your drinking habits. For example, if you drink alcohol when you are meeting a family member or friend, try swapping it with coffee or tea. Additionally, if you drink to de-stress yourself, try replacing the habit with a healthier alternative, such as running or going out for a long walk.

Suicide by Alcohol Poisoning: How to Reduce Risk in Community?

As a good Samaritan, you must try to reduce the risk of alcohol misuse and suicide in the community in whatever way you can. Some tips to follow in this regard include the following:

  • Play your role in increasing awareness and enhancing access to treatment for alcoholism and mental health disorders
  • Always encourage conversations about alcoholism between patients and healthcare professionals
  • Conduct or take part in public awareness campaigns that discuss the impacts of alcohol on suicidal behaviors, thoughts, and deaths
  • Encourage yourself and others to enforce the minimum legal drinking age
  • Play your role in maintaining or increasing the price of alcohol in an attempt to limit its access
  • Protest to place restrictions and limits on alcohol marketing techniques, specifically the ones that target the youth

FAQs

How does alcohol increase the risk of suicide?

Consuming alcohol can significantly increase the risk of suicide by:

  • Impairing decision-making and judgment
  • Decreasing inhibition and fear
  • Changing mood states
  • Enhancing aggression and impulsivity

Who is at risk of developing suicidal ideation while drinking alcohol?

People who are at risk of experiencing suicidal tendencies while drinking alcohol include the following:

  • People who have gone through trauma or other adversity during early life, such as childhood abuse or bereavement
  • People with a history of attempted suicide or suicide ideation
  • People who have been through a recent stressful life event, such as divorce, breakup, job loss, family conflict, or unemployment
  • People with a previous history of substance use disorders or mental health issues

References

1 Pompili, M., Serafini, G., Innamorati, M., Dominici, G., Ferracuti, S., Kotzalidis, G. D., Serra, G., Girardi, P., Janiri, L., Tatarelli, R., Sher, L., & Lester, D. (2010). Suicidal behavior and alcohol abuse. International journal of environmental research and public health, 7(4), 1392–1431. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph7041392

2 Ledden, S., Moran, P., Osborn, D., & Pitman, A. (2022). Alcohol use and its association with suicide attempt, suicidal thoughts, and non-suicidal self-harm in two successive, nationally representative English household samples. BJPsych open, 8(6), e192.

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