Alcoholism and Suicide: Definition, Statistics, and Risks
Author: Greg Basham
Last Updated: 6/27/2022
Rates of alcoholism and suicide have increased in the United States and across the globe. Many scholars and medical professionals have studied the trend and have varying ideas regarding the connection between alcoholism and suicide. While it is a subject that requires nuisance and careful examination, it would be irresponsible to deny the possibility that a link between suicide and alcoholism does exist.
Alcohol is a factor in many reported cases of suicide, and it is a fact that people who suffer from alcoholism, a physical and/or mental dependency on alcohol, are around one hundred and twenty times more likely to take their own life. This statistic, coupled with the fact that close to 30% of suicide victims were found with alcohol in their system, speaks to the fact that people who attempt suicide have an addictive relationship with alcohol.
The connection between alcohol abuse and domestic abuse is also relevant when discussing the link between suicide and alcoholism. A large percentage of spouses or partners that enact physical or mental abuse onto the person they’re living with, or are in a relationship with, have been shown to also be abusing alcohol. Suffering from domestic abuse can lead people to take drastic measures to cope with the pain and trauma of domestic abuse, and sometimes suicide can seem like the only option left for an individual attempting to escape the trauma.
What is Suicide?
Suicide is the term used to describe the act of killing oneself. It can be a shocking and heartbreaking act, sometimes of desperation, that can damage everyone who knew the suicide victim. The reality is that the only way to help people cope with thoughts of suicide is to be open to taking part in conversations about suicide in a healthy, productive, constructive way.
The weight of considering suicide has been known to be lifted significantly by support from friends and family, rather than by ignoring the issue and shying away from the reality that it is a burden that many people are carrying in this day and age.
What Are the Causes of Suicide?
The causes of suicide differ greatly from one case to the next. Mental illness, bereavement, losing a loved one to suicide, drug addiction, and alcoholism, have all been cited as potential causes of suicide. Also, failures in professional life, financial challenges, childhood trauma, and other hardships can bring people into a deep depression, or desperation, when suicide can feel like the only route left to them.
Some medications, like antidepressants, can also cause people to feel suicidal. This is because some antidepressants might interact with serotonin levels in such a way that causes normal levels to drop off, leading to suicidal thoughts. This is one reason why individuals under the age of 25 have been known to feel suicidal feelings when taking certain antidepressants.
Stressful life situations, regardless of the reason, is most generally the cause of suicide. Mental illness too is a conspicuous factor in cases of suicide. Without help and support, the feelings of desperation can become too severe to overcome, and this is sometimes why people resort to suicide. Alcoholism, especially when it becomes unmanageable, is a major reason why life can become too difficult and stressful to cope with.
Alcohol addiction can slowly take over a person’s life. People with alcoholism also tend to have other stressors in life, other than alcohol addiction, the combination of challenges can lead to a situation where suicide feels like a legitimate way out.
How Can Alcohol Affect People Who Are Suicidal?
Alcohol can affect people who are suicidal or have shown suicidal tendencies because drinking alcohol is sometimes used by people as a tool to self-medicate. While attempting to manage stress, escape painful emotions, or just forget one’s problems, people might turn to drinking as a temporary release.
However, the effects of alcohol do not solve problems, in fact, a continuous abuse of alcohol will cause more trouble. Chronic alcohol use can result in physical and mental dependency, which will become another problem, rather than a solution.
In turn, people who have developed suicidal thoughts, feelings, and/or tendencies, might turn to alcohol to cope. As alcohol addiction develops, it becomes a strain on a person who is already dealing with other problems. Alcoholism can harm a person’s work life, decreasing their productivity and reliability, their home life, damaging relationships with loved ones, and also the alcoholic’s own body, as the mind, and the organs, are left crippled by long-time alcohol abuse.
Alcoholism can severely injure a person’s mind and body even if they had no outstanding health conditions before developing alcohol use disorder. Some of the most common symptoms of alcoholism are chronic anxiety and depression, which are two of the most commonly documented contributing factors to suicide.
This relationship between alcohol and mental health is essential to understanding the connection between alcoholism and suicide. Alcohol abuse over a long period has been known to lead to suicidal thoughts, as a person suffers from the highs and lows of alcohol dependency. Studies also prove that alcohol can magnify the symptoms of many mental health conditions like bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, which, like anxiety and depression can lead to suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
What Are the Statistics Regarding Alcohol and Suicide?
The statistics surrounding alcohol’s relationship with suicide have mostly to do with rates of alcoholism. When alcoholism is a distinguishing characteristic for an individual, they can be up to 120 times more likely to attempt suicide than a person who is not suffering from alcohol abuse. People dependent on alcohol are not the only people who might take their life, but they are more likely.
While suicide rates have increased independently of alcohol by about 60% worldwide over the past 45 years or so, and even though suicide can result due to a wide spectrum of socio-economic factors and crises, alcohol use disorders are highly prevalent in regions where there is a high suicide rate.
Alcohol is considerably disinhibiting, causing people to make rash and reckless decisions they would not otherwise make on the influence. Also, people with alcohol use disorders have been documented as having an increased risk of suicide in comparison to the population at large that those with alcoholism belong to.
Thirdly, although the risk of suicide is higher in individuals suffering from mental illnesses like clinical depression, among alcoholics the lifetime suicide risk is somewhere between 10-15%, and alcohol is consistently cited as causing the impulsiveness necessary to commit suicide.
Given these statistics, a relationship is apparent between alcohol abuse, if not alcohol use, and suicide rates. The reality is that an alcohol addiction comes with a litany of challenges, causing damage to the mind and body that, especially when linked with exterior socio-economic problems, can lead people to severe desperation.
The numbers provided above do not spell out the full story, but they do outline a considerable link between alcohol abuse and suicide.
What Are the Risks of Drinking Alcohol For People Who Are Suicidal?
While there is no single reason why people consider or attempt suicide, it is generally accepted that drinking alcohol is dangerous for people who are suicidal. The reason why drinking alcohol is dangerous is that although getting drunk might cause temporary feelings of euphoria and relaxation, the aftermath of sobering up is followed by a dip in the brain chemicals that regulate happiness.
Anxiety and depression can both spike upwards after heavy drinking, and for a person who is already suffering from suicidal thoughts or tendencies, this damage to their brain chemistry can make their internal battle even more difficult to fight.
Alcohol misuse, whether it is chronic or acute, is considered more dangerous for people who are suicidal than the occasional drink, but in any case, there are still risks attached to drinking alcohol for people who are suicidal or contemplating suicide.
The World Health Organization has claimed that the risk of suicide can be as much as eight times higher for an individual who is abusing alcohol than someone who is not drinking. That statistic should be an indication of the potential dangers associated with drinking alcohol for a person who is considering suicide.
Apart from the way that drinking alcohol can meddle with the mind’s natural mood-regulating chemicals, causing instability in mood and leading to increased rates of depression and anxiety, which are two major causes of suicidal tendencies, drinking alcohol also causes impulsiveness. Heavy alcohol consumption can be momentarily uninhibited, causing people to reconsider previously frightening or taboo decisions, and even attempt them. This is why so many suicides are documented as involving alcohol, as people make dangerous choices under the influence of alcohol.
People who are at risk of, or suffer from, mental illnesses like schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder, are at increased risk of suicide if they abuse alcohol or even misuse alcohol. As alcohol damages the brain’s ability to regulate chemicals associated with depression and anxiety, so too does the brain have trouble coping with other mental illnesses when alcohol is constantly added to the mix, disrupting the stability of the mind. This instability can be perilous for people who suffer from mental illness, and for this reason, they should avoid alcohol abuse of any kind.
What Are the Treatments for Alcohol Misuse and Suicide?
There are several types of treatments for alcohol misuse and alcohol abuse that are proven to work. These fall into several categories, which may overlap in their application, but include medication, mutual support groups, and both out-patient and in-patient rehabilitation.
These same treatments, although they vary in specificity, are also utilized by professionals in treating suicide. Brief interventions, therapies, and medications are all reputable options, and sometimes a mix of these is the best-case scenario for therapy. While there is no surefire method, because everyone is different, contacting professionals who are trained to help is the first step toward defining a process of therapy that will work best.
When someone is suffering from alcohol abuse and suicidal tendencies, it is vital to engage in a rehabilitation process that is as interactive as possible. In short, in-patient, in-house rehabilitation, where patients are monitored by specialists and allowed to undergo the full process of rehabilitation, is often the best option. Since the detoxification process is full of symptoms of withdrawal which tax both the body and mind.
For a person whose mind is already weighed down by suicidal thoughts, it is essential to ease the challenges that might arise during such a difficult experience by incorporating professional supervision. Attempting rehabilitation on one’s own may not prove as long-lasting and successful as that which is conducted in a safe, professional, medical setting.
What Is The Relationship Between Alcohol and Suicide?
A relationship between alcohol and suicide does exist. Worldwide, the most definitive link between rates of suicide and alcohol consumption relates to alcoholism. Chronic or acute alcohol abuse is most closely tied to rates of suicide because that kind of alcohol drinking is incredibly dangerous for the body and mind.
The same socio-economic crises that may develop for individuals who are struggling with alcoholism are generally some of the same socio-economic factors that are noted as bringing out suicidal tendencies in individuals. Couple this practical reasoning with the reality that alcoholism takes a severe toll on the mind, damaging natural brain chemistry function, and the relationship between alcoholism and suicide becomes apparent.
People who suffer from alcoholism are not all suicidal, nor are people with suicidal tendencies all addicted to alcohol. However, an apparent overlap exists between both demographics which leads to the assumption that the relationship between alcoholism and suicide is a destructive one.
While there is a great deal of ongoing research attributed to studying the relationship between alcohol and suicide to better understand why the rates of alcohol consumption and suicide might be connected, it is safe to say that some kind of correlation between alcoholism and suicide does exist.
Do People Who Are Suicidal Drink Excessively?
People who are suicidal do not all drink excessively. While there is a potential link between people with alcoholism and people who attempt suicide, people who drink excessively do not exclusively attempt or commit suicide, and vice versa. There are suicide cases where alcohol is never involved, and also there are alcoholics who have never attempted or even considered suicide. Both illnesses are far too nuanced and complex to blanket with generalizations, which is why it is so vital to understand the individual in crisis and see what their specific problems may be, to deploy assistance and succeed in both rehabilitation and recovery.
Do Suicide Patients Drink Too Much Alcohol?
No, not all suicide patients drink too much alcohol. The relationship between alcoholism and suicide rates is too complicated to be defined with an overarching statement. While there are high rates of drunkenness in people who have attempted suicide, that is not enough evidence to suggest that all suicide patients drink too much alcohol.
However, the percentage of people who have attempted suicide found with alcohol in their system does illustrate some sort of relationship between heavy alcohol use and suicide. It is not that every person who attempts suicide also is a heavy drinker, but rather, as described above, that alcohol does have the propensity to cloud the mind, reduce inhibitions, and bring out compulsive actions, which might bring someone to attempt something they would otherwise not follow through with, like suicide.
Is Suicide Common Among Alcoholics?
Yes, suicide is relatively common among alcoholics. Studies of samples of completed suicides do indicate that roughly 20-40% of all suicides were committed by alcoholics. Additionally, studies show that alcoholics may be between 60 to 120 times more likely to commit suicide than people who are not suffering from alcohol use disorder.
These alarming statistics not only explain why some scholars and medical professionals point to the relationship between alcoholism and suicide, but they also indicate why it is so important for people suffering from alcoholism to seek help. Therapy is possible and recovery is attainable. When a person stops drinking, and alcohol leaves their system, the mind does heal and the desperation that alcoholism might cause can be avoided.
Healing is possible, and by taking this route, people who suffer from alcohol use disorder can also limit the chances that they ever become at risk for suicide.
Does Alcohol Cause Suicide?
No, alcohol does not cause suicide. There are a host of other factors that can cause a person to contemplate or attempt suicide. Simply drinking alcohol will not elicit suicidal thoughts or tendencies.
That said, alcohol can exacerbate suicidal feelings in people who are already struggling with such thoughts or tendencies. Therefore, while alcohol does not cause suicide, it can be an extremely influential factor for people who already suffering from suicide. Drinking alcohol should be avoided at all costs for people who might fall into such a category, especially those people who have other substance abuse addictions or mental illnesses.
Can Alcohol Make Suicidal Tendencies Worse?
Yes, while alcohol does not cause suicide, it can cause people who are already suicidal to act on their feelings. Alcohol damages the mind and the body, and if someone is abusing alcohol, their chances of attempting suicide skyrocket.
Avoiding drinking alcohol is important for people with suicidal tendencies, as alcoholism can cause a person already contemplating suicide to attempt it. This is down to a host of reasons, including the effect alcohol abuse has on brain chemistry, as well as how drunkenness can remove inhibitions, like fear and trepidation, which might otherwise guard someone against attempting something as drastic as suicide.
Can You Drink Alcohol On Suicide Medication?
No, the medications prescribed to cope with suicidal thoughts or tendencies strongly prohibit drinking alcohol. They are strong drugs like Lithium, and antidepressants, and would interact with alcohol in such a way that would have a disastrous effect on the mind.
People who have been prescribed such medications by medical professionals have generally been deemed in a dire enough position to require such strong drugs, which is why these medications must be used with care, and under the supervision of licensed doctors.
Mixing alcohol with any of the medications prescribed to manage suicidal thoughts or tendencies should never be considered.
Is Suicide an Indication of Alcoholism?
No, suicidal thoughts or tendencies are not an indication of alcoholism. Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency are indicated by physical and or mental addiction that takes the form of drinking habits, not suicide habits.
So, what is alcoholism? And how does it relate to suicide?
Suicide can be a product of alcoholism, which is why it is vital to take care when drinking alcohol and to avoid alcohol abuse at all costs. Alcoholism has been documented to cause so many of the same issues that arise in cases of individuals who have attempted suicide. The relationship between alcoholism and suicide is too apparent not to consider, and just another reason why alcohol abuse is so dangerous.