Alcohol Abuse and Suicide: A Deadly Relationship

Written in Blog On November 21, 2017

Alcohol and suicide are more intertwined than you probably thought. An alcoholic is 120 times more likely to commit suicide than a non-alcoholic. Drinking is involved in a quarter of all suicides, and one third of those who kill themselves use alcohol prior to the act. So, among the 43,000 Americans who end their own lives every year, about 14,350 are drunk at the time, and nearly another 10,750 involved alcohol somehow in the suicide process. Therefore, over half of American suicides involve alcohol somehow.

Both alcohol abuse and suicide are preventable. Even more unfortunate is the undeniable connection the two have. The negative emotional and physiological effects of alcohol abuse exacerbate many of the negative feelings associated with being suicidal. This article will focus mainly on the many ways alcohol abuse and suicides are related, but will also touch on ways to overcome both suicidal thoughts or actions and alcohol abuse.

Yes, the two are linked in numerous ways, but therefore, treatment for one assists greatly in treatment for the other. There is always a silver lining. Before finding out just how related alcohol abuse and suicide are, let’s briefly discuss them as separate epidemics.

Dangers of the Drink

The number one preventable cause of death is tobacco abuse. Number two is poor diet/physical inactivity. Guess what number three is? Yup, you got it right. Alcohol kills nearly 90,000 Americans every single year. About 90% of adults have tried it in their lives. About 70% of adults drank this year. About 56% of adults drank this month. More than 15 million adult alcoholics call the US home.  Another three quarters of a million Americans aged 12-17 have an alcohol use disorder. This is an epidemic.

The 90,000 alcohol-related deaths that happen annually in America do not include vehicle accidents involving alcohol, nor deaths from alcohol-caused diseases, such as cirrhosis, fatty liver disease or hepatitis. It also does not include suicides caused by alcohol, which brings us to our next epidemic.

Suicide in America

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the US. For those under age 45, suicide is the second leading cause of death. As mentioned, suicide accounts for just about 43,000 of the annual deaths in America… so what about suicide attempts? Now we’re talking over a million. There are over 3,000 suicide attempts every day in the United States. Men are four times more likely to end their own lives by suicide than are women, yet women attempt suicide three times as often as men. Half of suicides are performed using a gun.

Every twelve minutes and twenty seconds, another American citizen takes his or her own life.

Suicide is an epidemic all of its own. To combine suicidal thoughts or actions with alcohol is a recipe for disaster, and it’s a recipe quite easy to make. The links between alcohol and suicide are astonishing.

Alcohol Abuse & Suicide

Alcohol is the most common substance correlated with suicide. Alcohol abuse over time has many negative effects on one’s wellbeing. Among the many are depression, increased impulsiveness, decreased inhibition, negative effect on self-image and self-esteem, irrational thought, and an overall lessened concern about the self. All of these are also symptoms of the suicidal.

Because alcohol depresses you, an already-existing depression will likely be deepened, possibly causing suicidal thoughts. Depression is the main emotional factor in suicide. Because alcohol makes you act more impulsively, a suicidal thought may turn into an action with the addition of drinking. Because alcohol decreases your inhibition, you are more likely to do things you wouldn’t do sober. Because alcohol worsens self-image and self-esteem… we’re sure you understand by now. These are the reasons abusers of alcohol are 120 times more likely to commit suicide.

The reasons alcohol and suicide are related go beyond the direct. Shameful acts are sometimes committed while abusing alcohol and these acts may lead to suicidal feelings or actions. Accidental suicide is not to be forgotten about, which includes alcohol poisoning deaths and dying from dangerous behavior (think fire-jumping), and is extremely more likely while abusing alcohol than not. Drinking causes countless issues in people’s lives, among them financial issues and marital problems, and may cause some to believe suicide to be the only option.

Consider this quote:

“Alcohol increases impulsivity and decreases inhibition. It increases negative self-image and decreases self-esteem; deepens depression and social isolation; and rises with the amount and length of time alcohol is consumed. Alcohol use fosters either/or and all or nothing thinking, and a lower concern for the future consequences of one’s actions. Many suicide attempts occur during binge drinking.”

The Less Commonly Thought Of

To make the link between the depressing effects of alcohol abuse and suicide is easy – not a tough one to grasp. However, many factors that commonly contribute to suicide are less commonly thought of as being caused by alcohol. For example, read this short fictional story:

Ed comes from a family of alcoholics. His great-grandparents started the tradition of boozing from a young age on, and Ed carried that tradition on. He is 23 years old and drinks at least a six-pack every single day, usually a twelve-pack on weekends. This has been Ed’s way since about tenth grade. He comes from a loving family, but a broken home. When he was 20 his mother died from lung cancer. His father’s drinking doubled since then – a feat in and of itself.

Ed’s older siblings, all four of them, tended to take their aggressions out on Ed over the years, all in different ways. Bill hit him a lot, Nancy teased him endlessly, Chuck liked to steal his baseball cards and sell them for pot money, and Elliot was always getting Ed into trouble. He truly came from a history of abuse and pain – not extreme but nonetheless.

Ed got a job after barely escaping from college, now 24 years of age. It didn’t take long before Ed was drinking before work. And then during work. And then Ed got caught. And then Ed got caught again. He was a decent employee who never called out and always did was he was told. That’s why his boss hadn’t fired him, at least not yet. It was when Ed got caught drinking vodka shooters in the janitor closet for the third time that he was let go.

However, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Ed wanted revenge. Ed drank an entire liter of vodka and decided to brandish a baseball bat and stroll through the parking lot. His drunken intention was originally to scare his boss once she was on her way to her car, but Ed was very drunk and instead decided to take his anger out on several parked cars in the company lot. Several swings in, Ed accidentally struck an elderly woman getting out of her vehicle. She was rushed to the hospital.

Full charges were pressed and Ed was looking at a couple of years in jail, if she lived, many more if she didn’t, and given his past record of more drunk & disorderly tickets than one should have, the public would not see him as an angel who made a devilish mistake. Ed got a lawyer and pretty much went broke in the process which only served to piss him off further. Three days before his trial, Ed decided to up the ante and get some moonshine. To blow off steam he decided to dig up his father’s old .22 and go shooting in the woods near his grandfather’s place.

Ed packed his bag: the rifle, about 60 bullets, a bottle of moonshine and his cell phone. Nothing else. On an empty stomach and a heart full of rage, Ed drove to his grandpa’s, unloaded the contents of his bag, loaded the gun, and got loaded himself. About fourteen shots into it, Ed decided to stop shooting at the pine trees and ponder his situation.

“I’m broke, probably going to jail, probably never getting another job after this fiasco, and probably not even worth being alive,” Ed thought. “Nobody really loves me. Dad just gets hammered all day in his empty house. My brothers and sister all hate me. I haven’t had a girlfriend since high school.”

Shot fifteen, into the trees.

“All I do is drink, which depresses the crap out of me, which leads me to drink more, and I love it and I hate it and I don’t know what to do anymore. If I just go away I don’t have to go to jail and I don’t have to face my family and I don’t have to do anything.”

Shot sixteen, into the ground in front of him.

“My mother is dead and dad doesn’t care about anything and all I have to look forward to a cell.”

Shot seventeen, into his own head.

Again, this story is not true. However, if it seemed like it could have been, that was intentional. There are eight risk factors that are potentially caused by alcohol, which could also lead to suicidal thoughts or actions. They are personal loss, employment issues, a history of trauma, past suicidal thoughts, legal issues, early onset of alcohol abuse, a family history of alcohol abuse, and finally access to weaponry.

You Can See it in the States

So far we have covered plenty of reasons why alcohol and suicide are linked. However, we have not necessarily offered any hard proof. Well, take a look at the two following pictures. You’ll surely start to see just how related alcohol and suicide are.

alcohol abuse rates usa

suicide death rates usa

Of the five states which consume the most alcohol, all of them have suicide rates higher than the national average, and one of them has the highest suicide rate in the entire country. Just glance back and forth between the two and feel the closeness of alcohol and suicide. They create a lethal combination not worth toying with.

In Conclusion

If you have ANY history of suicidal thoughts and/or actions, it is strongly recommended that you avoid alcohol altogether. Alcohol is the 4th leading cause of death in the US, and suicide is the 10th. For every suicide that is “successful,” another 25 are attempted. Every year, there are 1.6 million years of life lost because of suicides, most of which occur in people under age 45. Also, to leave you with another mind blowing statistic, 90% of suicide victims had a diagnosable disorder at the time of death. About 90% of alcoholics also have a concurrent disorder. This, my friends, is no coincidence.

If you or a loved one is experiencing alcohol abuse, suicidal thoughts, or especially the combination thereof, seek immediate professional assistance. Nobody is too busy to get help.