What Is the Connection Between Alcohol and Suicide?

Alcohol addiction and suicide risk
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If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

People who misuse alcohol are at a higher risk for depression and suicide. Evidence suggests that people who have alcohol use problems are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and death due to suicide. 

This article discusses the connection between alcohol and suicide, including some additional risk factors that may play a part.

Statistics on Alcohol Use and Suicide

Drinking alcohol has been linked to a number of suicides and suicidal attempts. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA):

  • A diagnosis of alcohol misuse or dependence is associated with a suicide risk that is 10 times greater than those in the general population.
  • Of those medically treated after a suicide attempt, alcohol use disorders were found to be a significant factor, with acute alcohol intoxication present in about 30% to 40% of cases.
  • Alcohol intoxication is involved in 22% of all suicide deaths.

The Connection Between Alcohol and Suicide

Alcohol leads to decreased inhibition and affects a person's ability to think clearly. As a result, people may be more likely to act on their thoughts, including those that might be related to suicide or self-injury. 

Alcohol also affects mood, which can make people more prone to experiencing suicidal thinking. The combination of worse mood, more negative thinking, and lower self-control means that people are more likely to act on suicidal thoughts when they are drinking.

SAMHSA also notes that alcohol increases psychological distress and aggressiveness while decreasing cognition. Alcohol may sometimes give people the motivation to act on their suicidal thoughts, while also reducing their ability to utilize other coping strategies.

It is also not uncommon for alcohol use disorders to occur alongside other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, personality disorders, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other substance use disorders.

Some studies have found that many people who die by suicide have a history of both alcohol misuse and depression.

In some cases, people may attempt to use alcohol to self-medicate mental health symptoms. This co-occurrence of substance use with other mental health conditions can further elevate suicide risk.

Age-Related Patterns

In general, adolescents and young adults are at the highest risk for attempted suicides throughout the world. They also tend to be the most likely to

In contrast, though the attempts may be less frequent, men over age 65 are at the greatest risk for completed suicide.

This suggests that there are different patterns related to age and suicide. A 2017 study found an increase in suicide attempts in older people who did and did not have substance use problems. Such findings indicate that placing all ages into one group is not an accurate way to gauge the suicide risks of either alcoholics or non-alcoholics.

Older adults may be more vulnerable due to a combination of factors including mood disorders like depression, increased isolation, health issues, and alcohol use.

Older adults with alcohol use disorder may also be at a higher risk of suicide because of the emotional and physical tolls their addictions take over the years.

How to Get Help

If you feel like your alcohol use may be contributing to thoughts of suicide or other mental health issues, talk to your doctor or mental health professional. Treatments are available that can help, including medication, therapy, or a combination of the two.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration suggests that people should be aware of both the risk and protective factors that increase the risk of suicide among people who misuse alcohol. Some of these risk factors include:

  • Academic problems
  • Bullying and peer rejection
  • Family conflict
  • Other mental health conditions
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Social withdrawal
  • Trauma

There are also factors that can lower the risk of suicide and help people work toward recovery from alcohol use disorders. Such factors include:

  • Effective mental health and substance use treatment
  • Developing coping skills, including those that foster resilience, self-esteem, and perseverance
  • Social support and bonds with family and friends
  • Community involvement
  • An optimistic outlook
  • Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide

Warning Signs

Family members and loved ones can help by making themselves aware of the warning signs of suicide. If someone you know has a problem with alcohol and exhibits some of the following signs, consider talking to them about getting help and reaching out to a helpline for further advice:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Expressing feelings of shame or guilt
  • Saying that they feel like a burden to others
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or sadness
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Having sudden changes in mood
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Using alcohol or other substances more frequently

Talking to your doctor or calling a suicidal helpline can connect you with the resources you need. Contact emergency services immediately if you or a loved one are in immediate danger.

A Word From Verywell

Being aware of the link between alcohol use and suicide is important, whether you are worried about your own risk or that of a loved one. Being aware of the warning signs of suicidal ideation can help you be more prepared to get help.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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