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Alcohol And Suicide – Risk Factors, Dangers, And Treatment

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

June 18, 2019

Alcohol abuse can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, especially in people with a history of depression. The most effective way to help someone struggling with alcoholism and thoughts of suicide is to seek professional treatment.

Alcoholism is a serious disease that can have a major impact on people’s personal and professional lives. People that are abusing alcohol become stuck in a pattern of drinking that makes it difficult to work, go to school, and focus on anything but their drinking. This can cause feelings of shame, depression, and hopeless.

Heavy drinking can also increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. According to experts, the risk for suicide is 10 times higher in people with alcohol dependence than those without. This is true even for people without a previous history of depression.

If you or an alcoholic you know is showing signs of suicidal thoughts or behaviors, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. Read on to learn more about the link between alcohol and suicide, signs of suicidal depression, and how to help an alcoholic in danger of suicide.

What Causes Alcoholics To Become Suicidal?

The cause of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in alcoholics is complex and is not the same for each person. Most often, the cause is actually a combination of factors based on what may be going on in a person’s personal life, as well as other genetic and biological factors.

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One reason experts have identified for increased suicide risk in alcoholics is the effects of alcohol on the brain. Many people associate drinking with feeling more relaxed. However, alcohol can also cause low mood and feelings of depression. This can become worse with frequent and heavy drinking.

In addition, many alcoholics have trouble functioning in their normal routine. This can lead to unemployment, financial struggles, and other life stressors that can trigger depression. In some cases, this can grow severe and lead to thoughts of suicide.

Risk Factors For Suicide And Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse and addiction are known to increase the risk for depression, as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviors. However, no one experience is universal.

Depression is a complex disease, and not everyone with depression thinks about or attempts suicide. Whether or not someone develops suicidal depression can depend on a mix of biological, genetic, and personal factors.

Although alcohol abuse and addiction can increase suicide risk, other risk factors include:

  • personal or family history of substance use disorders
  • family history of suicide or depression
  • past suicide attempts
  • childhood sexual abuse
  • being drunk
  • social isolation
  • interpersonal stress (strained relationships with a partner, friends, family, etc)
  • unemployment
  • access to firearms

Dangers Of Alcohol And Suicide Risk

Suicide is a major risk among people with alcohol problems. According to research, about one in three people who die by suicide meet the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence. This implicates alcohol in thousands of deaths each year.

Alcohol and suicide separately are considered some of the leading causes of deaths in the United States each year. But they are also strongly linked. Among adult alcoholics with and without a history of depression, the risk for suicide is 120 times higher than adults without a drinking problem.

The cause of this high suicide risk is complex, but can in part be linked to the effects of alcohol.

Alcohol, and alcohol abuse, in particular, can have many effects on the body and mind that make a person more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Some effects of alcohol abuse linked to greater risk for suicide include:

  • poorer judgment
  • cloudy thinking
  • lowered inhibition
  • recklessness
  • impaired coordination
  • feelings of depression and anxiety
  • aggression
  • more likely to act on suicidal thoughts

Methods of suicide can vary among alcoholics. Suicide by alcohol itself – that is, alcohol poisoning – is rare, but not unlikely, especially among people with alcohol dependence. People that drink heavily on a regular basis are at greater risk for drinking toxic amounts.

Signs That Someone Is At Risk For Suicide

If you or someone you know someone is struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction, it can be helpful to know signs of suicidal thoughts and behavior.

Some signs, such as fatigue and low mood, may be easier to overlook than others, especially if that person has a history of depression. Other signs can be alarming and may indicate that a person is in more immediate danger of fatally harming themselves.

The following are some common signs that a person may be in immediate danger of suicide:

  • talking about or threatening to kill themselves
  • looking for ways to end their life (e.g. getting a gun, pills, other dangerous materials)
  • writing or drawing about death, suicide, or dying
  • leaving instructions for what to do with their possessions after they die
  • drinking more alcohol than usual
  • mixing heavy amounts of alcohol with other drugs

How To Help A Suicidal Alcoholic

Research shows a strong link between alcoholism and suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism and showing signs of suicidal depression, professional treatment may be needed.

If someone is in immediate danger of attempting suicide, contact emergency services right away.

One option for emergency help is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which operates 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255. This confidential hotline is available for anyone who is experiencing severe emotional distress.

If someone is already in danger and appears unresponsive as a result of drug or alcohol overdose, or a life-threatening wound, call 9-1-1.

Treatment For Alcoholism And Suicidal Depression

Depression and thoughts of suicide are common among people with alcohol abuse and addiction. The most important thing to do in situations where a person is struggling with depression and alcohol abuse is to seek treatment as soon as possible.

By entering a rehab center, patients can detox from alcohol under medical supervision and receive adequate support. Afterward, patients can receive additional treatment for the mental and emotional aspects of addiction, including depression.

Treatment for co-occurring alcoholism and depression typically involves a combination of behavioral therapy and medications. This type of treatment is known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and can be helpful for treating cravings for alcohol and mental health struggles.

Contact us today to find dual-diagnosis alcohol and depression treatment options that suit your needs.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Addressing Suicidal Thoughts And Behaviors: A Review of the Literature

Montgomery County Emergency Service - Facts About Alcohol & Suicide

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