Nowadays, drinking is as much a part of American culture as apple pie and lemonade. From social get-togethers to dorm room keggers to that much-coveted, after-work martini, alcohol holds a special place in many people’s daily lifestyles. Despite the wide acceptance of this practice, the harmful effects of alcohol and excessive drinking still remain. This is especially the case with alcohol and suicide, where a direct relationship exists.
Alcohol ranks number one as the most commonly abused substance. When left untreated, alcoholism progresses along a downward spiral of physical and mental decline. These are prime conditions for suicidal thoughts and behaviors to take root and more often than not, mental health problems contribute to this process. Keep reading to see what factors play into the link between alcoholism and suicide.
Alcohol and Suicide Statistics
- On average, a suicide event happens every 40 seconds
- An estimated 90 percent of people in the United States have consumed alcohol at some point in their lifetimes
- As much as 50 percent of Americans consume alcohol on a regular basis
- Heavy drinkers are fives times more likely to die by suicide
- 12 to 15 percent of Americans meet the clinical criteria for alcohol dependence
- Individuals struggling with alcoholism are 120 times more likely to commit suicide than non-alcohol dependent people
- According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, the risk of death by suicide increases 10 to 14 times for people with alcohol dependence
- 22 percent of deaths by suicide involve alcohol intoxication
The Link Between Alcohol and Suicide
As commonplace as drinking is, it’s easy to forget that alcohol has addictive components that prey on vulnerable individuals. Most any substance that’s able to alter your brain chemistry can breed dependence and addiction when consumed regularly. As a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, alcohol disrupts normal brain functioning in significant ways so even short-term use can cause physical problems and emotional distress.
The link between alcoholism and suicide stems from alcohol’s impact on the CNS and the cycle of abuse that develops when alcohol is used to cope with daily life. Drinking becomes a form of self-medicating to manage stress and everyday conflicts. Over time, you’re likely to drink more often and drink larger amounts as the body’s tolerance for alcohol increases. Before long, your mental and emotional stability goes on a downward spiral as the vicious cycle of alcohol addiction takes over your life.
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Contributing Factors That Increase Suicide Risk
Health problems can take a toll on your mental and emotional stability. Serious medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia cause symptoms of pain and discomfort that don’t go away. Under these conditions, it’s not uncommon for someone to turn to alcohol as a means of relief. Medical problems like these also tend to breed depression, which only fuels drinking behaviors and suicide risk.
On the flip-side, the harmful effects of long-term alcohol abuse can just as easily cause serious medical problems to develop. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a causal relationship exists between alcohol consumption and 60 types of diseases and injuries, such as liver cancer, epilepsy, and injuries caused by car accidents. In effect, health problems and alcohol dependence can form their own vicious cycle that poses an increased risk for suicide.
Mental Health Factors
Mental health factors play a pivotal role in promoting excessive drinking and suicide risk. In fact, substance abuse and mental health problems tend to go hand-in-hand with one condition feeding into the other. According to the Indiana University Center for Health Policy, as much as 50 percent of people struggling with substance abuse also suffer from one or more mental health problems, a few of which include:
- Depression-based disorders
- Anxiety-based disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
Alcohol and suicidal behavior can also be aggravated by environmental stressors. Knowing someone who committed suicide, especially a loved one, can increase a person’s risk of attempting suicide if he or she drinks excessively on a regular basis. Crisis situations, such as job loss, the death of a loved one or a traumatic event, such as domestic abuse can also place an individual at an increased risk of suicide when alcoholism is present.
Signs to Watch For
While a long-term pattern of excessive drinking can increase the risk of suicide, even a single binge episode may encourage suicidal behavior in someone who’s in emotional distress. Since drinking, in general, reduces inhibitions and impulse control, the risk for self-harm increases considerably when mental or emotional problems are at work. Ultimately, alcohol and suicide risk can coexist for different reasons that vary from person to person.
Signs to watch for will likely show up in a person’s behavior. Keep in mind it’s not always easy to spot someone’s intentions as many individuals who reach this point remain quiet about their feelings. Signs that you should be able to spot include:
- Dangerous or risky behaviors that endanger a person’s life, such as drunk driving or even unsafe sexual practices
- A history of previous suicide attempts coupled with ongoing alcohol dependence
- Talking about suicide, even in a joking manner, while under the influence
- Talk about feelings of hopelessness while intoxicated
The Need for Treatment Help
The close relationship between alcohol and suicide makes the harmful effects of substance abuse and addiction all the more dangerous. When left untreated, alcohol dependence will evolve into a full-blown addiction. In like manner, the damaging effects of alcoholism on the mind, body, and emotions create the types of conditions that make suicide possible.
If you suspect you or someone you know has a drinking problem and is contemplating suicide, don’t hesitate to seek out treatment help. Today, there are several treatment options available that specifically address the needs of individuals struggling with substance abuse and mental health problems. Contact a specialist today for more information on available treatment options.
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Suicidal Online – “Alcohol Use and Suicidal Behaviors among Adults: A Synthesis and Theoretical Model”
- psychiatryonline.org – The American Journal of Psychiatry – “A Closer Look at Substance Abuse and Suicide”
- pubs.niaaa.nih.gov – National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Alcohol and Tolerance”
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – International Journal of Environment Research and Public Health, “Suicidal Behavior and Alcohol Abuse”
- fsph.iupui.edu – Indiana University Center for Health Policy- “Mental Health, Substance Misuse, and Suicide: Shared Risk and Protective Factors”
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.
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