Words like addiction, alcoholism, alcohol abuse, fatalities, drunk driving, recovery and treatment are the most commonly associated words with alcohol. However suicide and alcohol are closely associated as well. Many people don’t realize just how big of an impact alcohol has on suicide and how closely alcohol and suicide are related and correlated.
Alcohol is a drug that alters the nervous system. Alcohol affects dopamine neurotransmitters and the dopamine production process. Initially users feel a surge of dopamine when they drink, which is recorded by the brain as a reward. Therefore the drinker is encouraged to drink again. However, after a period of time, long or short depending on the individual, a person begins to need more and more alcohol to achieve the same effect as their initial intake. This creates a tolerance. If drinking continues then this tolerance leads to a dependence on alcohol. A person can become a high functioning alcoholic or a barely functioning one. Aside from long-term issues, each time alcohol is ingested, it causes depressant effects on the nervous system. It lowers inhibitions, reduces decision-making capabilities and amplifies negative moods and emotions.
Alcohol and Suicide
Some of the side effects of alcohol such as lowered inhibition or reduced decision-making capabilities can be fatal for someone with suicidal thoughts or feelings. They can engage in drinking hoping to stop the feelings but actually increase the desire to commit suicide. Lowered inhibition, lowers the fear of committing suicide and makes it more of a possibility. Reduced decision-making capabilities also may cause others to make a poor, irrational, or quick decision to commit suicide without thinking through the ramifications or without utilizing other coping strategies. Additionally, people may make dangerous decisions that lead to their accidental deaths. Facts show that over 25% of yearly suicides in the US involve alcohol and that at 1/3rd of those who committed suicide were ingesting alcohol before committing the act. The rate of men dying related to suicide from non-intentional means was more than double the percentage of women, and binge drinking was a major culprit in suicidal attempts.
Alcohol, Mental Health Disorders, and Depression
Alcohol, mental health and depression are all closely related as well. Many people with mental health disorders are avid alcohol users. This means that they have the potential to be faced with the co-occurring disorders of an AUD and their mental health disorder. Individuals with mental health disorders may use or abuse alcohol to deal with the symptoms of that they face everyday, especially sadness and anxiety as alcohol relaxes the system and provides lowered inhibitory responses. This doesn’t last long since alcohol is a depressant and it actually causes the symptoms that users are trying to avoid. It increases anxiety and magnifies the feelings of sadness, which creates a loop of unwanted feelings. Those who are suffering from negative emotional symptoms are at risk as well, as alcohol increases negative self-image and feelings associated with self-esteem as well. Drinking and mental health disorders increases the risk of suicide by up to 40 times more. This is because many people don’t even know they have a mental health disorder so they are not receiving help for it or they are isolated from proper supports. Additionally, alcohol can cause alcohol-related depression which may spark suicidal feelings and thoughts.
Alcohol and Risk Factors
Alcohol is so influential in attempting to commit and committing suicide, that an individual adult who has an alcohol abuse disorder is 120 times more likely to commit suicide than an adult who does not have an alcohol abuse problem.
There are many risk factors that can lead to suicide when alcohol is involved:
- Traumatic losses
- Issues with the law
- Financial issues
- Childhood trauma and abuse
- Adult trauma and abuse
- Suicidal inclinations
- Teen drinking (started)
- Gun access or usage
- History of alcoholism in the family
Without drinking, many of these risk factors can be handled by looking to other resources to help alleviate the symptoms. If an individual doesn’t drink when these risk factors are present, then they may be able to clearly think of other means to solve or manage these problems.
Warning Signs of Suicide
Warning signs of suicide or suicidal behavior are:
- talking about ending one’s life or death
- looking for and making a plan to kill oneself
- talking about being worthless
- having no reason to live
- feeling hopeless
- expressing unmanageable pain
- being a weight on others
- drinking more than usual
Signs that may be more common or mimic other illnesses are:
- changes in sleep or sleeping patterns
- extreme mood swings
- intense rage
- change in social circle or lack thereof
- displaying anxiety
- reckless behavior
Death as a result of alcohol, both intentional and accidental, are entirely avoidable. Within the United States, the 4th most prevalent cause of death is alcohol, and suicide follows at #10. With alcohol and suicide being so closely related, one may speculate that if alcohol weren’t carelessly consumed by those with mental health related disorders, and when risk factors are present, then the rate of suicide would decrease.
It’s difficult to lose a loved one, friend, or even acquaintance due to suicide. Look for the warning signs of suicide and alcohol abuse, and reach out if you notice signs of either. For more information and resources, visit the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, or call our 24/7 addiction helpline at 855-216-0376.