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The relationship between alcoholism and suicide

alcohol stress

Suicide and Alcoholism

Suicide is a massive problem globally. Did you know that someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds? There are many factors that play a role in suicide risk, alcoholism being one of them.

Doctors have known since the 1960’s that alcoholism and suicide are linked.1 People with alcohol use disorders are more likely to think about suicide, attempt suicide and complete suicide.2

Alcoholism is a disease, and people suffering from it need support. With the right help, we can prevent the tragic consequence of alcohol-related suicide.

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What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism is also known as alcohol addiction, alcohol dependence, or alcohol use disorder.

People with alcoholism:

  1. Drink alcohol excessively
  2. Have an increased tolerance (they need to drink more to experience the same effects)
  3. Have difficulty controlling their alcohol use
  4. Continue to drink despite negative effects on their life or the lives of those around them
  5. Prioritise alcohol over other parts of their life such as work or relationships
  6. Experience strong cravings and even withdrawal symptoms during periods of time without alcohol

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Does alcoholism increase your risk of suicide?

Yes, alcoholism greatly increases your risk of suicide. The risk of suicide in people with alcoholism is up to 120 times greater than in people with no psychiatric problems.1

Why does alcoholism increase your risk of suicide?

Acute intoxication increases suicide risk.

Being under the influence of alcohol increases the risk of a suicide attempt. This risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed.3

There are many reasons why alcohol intoxication may increase suicide risk:

  1. Alcohol intoxication can promote suicidal thoughts.4 Drinking alcohol can cause a state of unease or general unhappiness with life. People experiencing these feelings may find themselves considering suicide as a way to escape.
  1. Under the influence of alcohol, it can be harder to utilise healthier coping mechanisms to cope with distressing feelings. 
  1. Alcohol impairs our ability to thoroughly consider our actions. People who have been drinking may not comprehend the potentially fatal consequences of their plans to harm themselves. 
  1. Alcohol lowers inhibition.4 Without inhibition, suicidal thoughts may turn into a suicide attempt.

Alcoholism can disrupt support systems

When times are hard, most of us turn to others for support. Alcoholism can create challenges in friendships and relationships. With repeated challenges, friendships and relationships might break down. People with untreated alcoholism can find themselves isolated and socially withdrawn.1 When they start to struggle, they may not have a support network to turn to. People with no support network are more at risk of suicide.5

Alcoholism can cause changes or loss in our lives

Alcoholism is a disease that has significant consequences on the lives of those it affects. People might lose their jobs, experience relationship breakdowns, or suffer from health problems. These stressful life situations may precipitate suicidal feelings.

Alcoholism can worsen mental health problems

Mental health problems such as Depression, Anxiety and Bipolar Disorder commonly coexist with alcoholism.6 Alcohol can worsen the symptoms of mental health problems. People may find themselves so distressed by their symptoms that ending their life seems like the only option. 

Alcohol use alters our neurochemistry

Our brains use signalling molecules called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are necessary for a number of brain functions. One of their important functions is regulating mood. Abnormal activity of certain neurotransmitters can lead to low mood and other problems. Researchers believe dopamine and serotonin activity may be related to suicidal behaviours.7

We know that chronic alcoholism can affect neurotransmitter activity. Researchers are exploring whether the neurotransmitter disturbance caused by alcohol may be one of the reasons people with alcoholism are more likely to have suicidal thoughts.1

Alcohol can cause brain damage

Excessive alcohol use can lead to Alcohol-Related Brain Damage. Alcohol intoxication can lead to head injuries, and chronic excess alcohol can alter the structure of the brain. These effects can lead to brain damage, which is associated with suicidal behaviour.7

People with alcoholism may be afraid to seek help

People with alcoholism may feel unable to speak up and seek help because of the perceived stigma. Alcoholism is a disease, but sadly some people still view it as a choice, or a moral failing. These harmful beliefs can alienate people who are struggling with alcoholism. Without the appropriate support, they may feel that suicide is their only way out of suffering.

Is everyone who drinks alcohol at risk of suicide?

Not everyone with an alcohol use disorder will attempt suicide. Many factors play a role in determining suicide risk.

Risk factors for attempting suicide include:

  • Being male
  • Having mental health problems
  • Having a history of trauma or abuse
  • Having a history of previous suicide attempts
  • Lack of support network

What to do if you’re feeling suicidal

Struggling with alcoholism and suicidal thoughts can be incredibly distressing. If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts you should speak to your GP about getting the right support. 

During active suicidal thoughts, it’s important to reach out and seek help.  Here are a few steps you can take when you’re having suicidal thoughts:

  • Ask a family member or friend to give you some company
  • Call someone you trust or a helpline such as the Samaritans
  • Do an activity that brings you joy to take your mind off your thoughts
  • Focus on what you’re looking forward to in the future

If you think your life may be in danger you should seek immediate help by calling 999.

For non-judgemental help and advice, call Castle Craig on 01721 728118.

Alcoholism is a disease that affects a significant percentage of the world’s population. If left untreated, it can be fatal. However, recognised treatment methods give a good prospect of a successful outcome.

What to do if you’re worried a loved one might be suicidal

If you’re worried a loved one may be suicidal, speak to them about it. Often people are afraid that talking about suicide may make things worse. People worry that asking someone about suicide may plant the idea in their head and make them more suicidal. Studies have shown this is not true.8

By asking about suicide you’re giving your loved one an opportunity to open up. If they open up to you, you may be able to support them in getting the help they need.

The important thing to remember when speaking to someone about suicide is to be kind and non-judgemental. Be sure to phrase the question in a way that is empathetic and understanding. For example you might wish to say:

  • “Sometimes when people are struggling with their mental health, they start to think about taking their own life. Is this something you’ve been having thoughts about?”
  • “I’m worried that you might be thinking about suicide. Is this something you’ve thought about? I’m here for you to talk to.”

These can be much more constructive than judgemental questions such as:

  • “You wouldn’t do anything stupid would you?”
  • “You’re not going to kill yourself right?”

Treatment for suicidal behaviours and alcoholism 

People struggling with alcoholism and suicidal behaviours need urgent treatment. Alcoholism is a serious disease that can have devastating effects on people’s mental, physical and emotional health. 

Treatment depends on the individual but may involve:

  • Help to withdraw safely from alcohol
  • Therapies specific to their needs
  • Treatment of co-existing mental health problems such as Depression, Anxiety or Bipolar Disorder
  • Involvement of families and friends to support the individual in recovery

At Castle Craig, we are highly experienced in providing treatment to people with alcoholism and suicidal behaviours. 

Key features of our treatment are:

  • Personalised plans for every patient created by a Consultant Psychiatrist
  • Medical staff on-site 24/7 to ensure our patients are safe and comfortable
  • A variety of therapies offered to meet individual patient needs
  • A range of complementary therapies such as aqua therapy and equine therapy

If you’d like to speak to us about getting help for yourself or a loved one, give us a call today.

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    References

    1. Pompili M, Serafini G, Innamorati M, et al. Suicidal behaviour and alcohol abuse. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2010;7(4):1392-1431. doi:10.3390/ijerph7041392

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2872355/#__sec3title

    1. Darvishi N, Farhadi M, Haghtalab T, Poorolajal J. Alcohol-related risk of suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, and completed suicide: a meta-analysis [published correction appears in PLoS One. 2020 Oct 29;15(10):e0241874]. PLoS One. 2015;10(5):e0126870. Published 2015 May 20. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0126870

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25993344/

    1. Borges G, Bagge CL, Cherpitel CJ, Conner KR, Orozco R, Rossow I. A meta-analysis of acute use of alcohol and the risk of suicide attempt. Psychol Med. 2017;47(5):949-957. doi:10.1017/S0033291716002841

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5340592/

    1. Conner KR, Bagge CL. Suicidal Behavior: Links Between Alcohol Use Disorder and Acute Use of Alcohol. Alcohol Res. 2019;40(1):arcr.v40.1.02. Published 2019 Jan 1. doi:10.35946/arcr.v40.1.02

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6799956/

    1. Kleiman EM, Liu RT. Social support as a protective factor in suicide: findings from two nationally representative samples. J Affect Disord. 2013;150(2):540-545. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2013.01.033

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3683363/

    1. Shivani R, Goldsmith RJ, Anthenelli RM. Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders: Diagnostic Challenges. Alcohol Res Health. 2002;26(2):90-98.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6683829/

    1. Sher L. Alcohol and suicide: neurobiological and clinical aspects. ScientificWorldJournal. 2006;6:700-706. Published 2006 Jun 21. doi:10.1100/tsw.2006.146

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5917128/pdf/TSWJ-2006-6-958782.pdf

    1. Dazzi T, Gribble R, Wessely S, Fear NT. Does asking about suicide and related behaviours induce suicidal ideation? What is the evidence?. Psychol Med. 2014;44(16):3361-3363. doi:10.1017/S0033291714001299

    https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/psychological-medicine/article/does-asking-about-suicide-and-related-behaviours-induce-suicidal-ideation-what-is-the-evidence/FCAEE9E5BC840D76CF10AEBECD921AC9

    About the Author

    Dr India Duane: Writer for Health and Wellbeing Brands | Medical Doctor living in Scotland. Her extensive medical knowledge and years of experience working with patients and professionals allow her to turn complex medical concepts into readable and interesting content.

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