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The Link Between Alcohol Abuse & Suicide

Published on October 6, 2021
The Link Between Alcohol Abuse & Suicide

Suicide and alcohol abuse are quite closely linked. Alcohol abuse and addiction come with higher rates of suicide and suicidal ideation comes with an increased risk of alcohol abuse.

If suicidal thoughts or alcohol abuse are issues for yourself or a loved one, there are signs you can look out for, risk factors you can consider, and treatment options you can access.

How Are Alcohol Abuse & Suicide Linked?

Alcohol abuse and suicide are linked through a number of different factors, including clouded judgment, co-occurring disorders, and quitting alcohol cold-turkey.

Clouded Judgement

Alcohol use impairs judgment and increases impulsivity. While sober, a person may see suicide as something they wouldn’t do, but when feeling the intoxicating effects of alcohol, it could appear to be a logical next step. 

Alcohol consumption can turn suicidal thoughts into suicidal actions. 

Co-occurring Disorders

Alcohol use disorder is also a common co-occurring disorder with mental illness. Alcohol is often a type of coping mechanism or form of self-medication for people with depressive symptoms, anxiety, and other mental health issues. 

Depression and alcohol can be a lethal mix for self-harm, potentially leading to completed suicide. 

Quitting Cold Turkey

Even those with alcohol addiction who are trying to quit have a higher risk of suicide. Why? With alcohol no longer hiding unwanted or negative emotions, suicide begins to look like a real option. The unpleasant withdrawal symptoms don’t help either. 

This is especially true for those who quit cold turkey and don’t have a treatment plan in place to help them through the worst of withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol Abuse & Suicide Prevalence

Studies support the link between alcohol abuse and suicide. Alcohol is estimated to be part of 25% of all cases in the U.S where suicide was the cause of death.

According to SAMHSA, a diagnosis of alcohol dependence is associated with a suicide rate that’s 10 times higher than the general population.

The CDC also found that approximately 22% of deaths by suicide involved alcohol intoxication and a blood-alcohol content at or above the legal limit.

Warning Signs Of Suicidal Ideation

Warning signs of alcohol-induced suicidal thoughts or behaviors may include:

Risky Behavior

A common side effect of alcohol abuse is an increase in risky behaviors like drunk driving, drug use, and unhealthy sexual behavior. A pre-planned suicide attempt could also be a sign of risky behaviors.

Talking About Suicide

Talking or even joking about suicide while drunk can also be a warning sign that someone is at risk of suicide.

Researching How To Take Their Own Life

Looking into ways to kill themselves can be a big sign someone might be at risk and need help. They may Google methods related to suicide, or even buy a weapon, rope, or other tools used for self-harm

Hopelessness

Talking about feeling hopeless or feeling they have no reason to live can be a sign someone might try to hurt themselves. They may give up activities they once enjoyed or feel like nothing is worth doing.

Isolation

Withdrawing from those around them can be a sign that someone is thinking about suicide. They may lock themselves away in a room, avoid gatherings, or limit any social interaction.

Mood Swings

Mood swings can be a sign of depression, anxiety, or other mental illness that can lead to suicide. Mood swings can be so severe that they interfere with daily life, and are defined by an abrupt or jarring change of mood.

Risk Factors For Suicide & Alcohol Addiction

There are quite a few common risk factors (also known as predictors) that may eventually lead to alcohol addiction and/or suicidality. Some of those risk factors include:

  • genes: substance use disorders can be genetic and if someone has a family member who suffers from alcohol addiction or completes suidice, they may be more likely to experience or complete it too
  • exposure: simply being exposed to suicidal or alcoholic behavior can become a risk factor for both conditions
  • stressors: environmental stressors, poverty, unemployment, and loss of a loved one, may also play a role in a person’s chance of having problems with alcohol and/or suicidal behavior
  • trauma: traumatic experiences such as abuse and violence may influence the development of alcohol addiction and/or suicidal behavior
  • previous suicidal behavior: attempting suicide in the past increases the risk of more suicidal behaviors in the future

Treatment Of Suicide & Alcohol Abuse

Seeking treatment for both alcohol addiction and depression is one of the most effective measures of suicide prevention.

Treating the addiction and the suicidality at the same time is vital because addiction can get in the way of depression/suicide treatment, and depression can get in the way of addiction treatment. Both conditions must be treated together.

Multidisciplinary Treatment Options

Treatment may include inpatient or outpatient care and a detox program depending on the severity of the case and whether the person is alcohol-dependent or not. 

Many inpatient treatment programs offer plans for recovery that can address alcohol misuse and suicidal behaviors with psychiatry and other mental health care.  

Part of these plans can include medications like antidepressants. It all depends on what your healthcare provider decides will work best for you.

If you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse, call our helpline today. If you or a loved one has suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - Substance Use and Suicide: A Nexus Requiring a Public Health Approach
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Does alcohol and other drug abuse increase the risk for suicide?
U.S. National Library of Medicine - Suicidal Behavior and Alcohol Abuse

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