Alcohol Use Disorder and Suicide

Alcohol Use Disorder and Suicide: What You Need To Know

Disclaimer: Suicide can be a triggering topic. Please read with caution. If you or someone you know is at risk for harming themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Are you worried about your depressed son, a college student with a habit of drinking excessively?

Maybe it’s your best friend who has struggled with depression her whole life and has been going out every night, calling you moments before she blacks out.

Or even your husband who takes a case of beer and locks himself in the basement every night where the open gun safe is stored — and you know he’s developed depression since the loss of his parents.

Unfortunately, many people have a loved one that has committed suicide. And although there isn’t a single reason for what drives suicide, one thing is clear: Alcohol use has been found as the cause of nearly one-third of suicides

That equals around 7,500 people each year on a national level.

Pause, and let that sink in for a minute. In 2020, 1,438 Arizonans died from suicide. On average, one person in the state died by suicide every six hours. For alcohol-related deaths, Arizona ranked 10th out of all 50 states. That equals four people per every 100,000.

They were mothers, aunts, uncles, brothers, fathers, grandparents, friends, neighbors, classmates, and coworkers. 

They were teachers, Amazon drivers, engineers, restaurant servers, immigrants, honorably discharged veterans, daycare workers, business owners, and artists.

How Did We Get Here?

Alcohol has become a form of self-medication. This can be due to underlying mental health issues such as depression or bipolar disorder, a relationship that went off the deep end, or struggles at a job. The alcohol starts off as a quick fix to the problem, moves on to a tolerance, and eventually ends up as an addiction. When someone has a history of these experiences in their life, it can lead to alcohol use disorder. 

Mixing the misuse of alcohol with one or more of these conditions can cause someone to make choices that they wouldn’t necessarily make when they’re sober. This is because alcohol affects the brain’s decision-making capabilities. It can move them to take their own life when the alcohol convinces the person that they’re better off dead instead of suffering while sober. 

Poor decision-making while under the influence of alcohol is all too common. It could be the mean text message you sent to your ex-best friend, calling your ex as you’re in an emotional puddle of tears, or getting charged for public intoxication when your anger gets out of control at the local pub. Nonetheless, there are a lot of situations with alcohol where poor decisions take the lead, but nowhere hits as painful, impactful, and irrevocable as choosing suicide.

Dr. Conor Farren, addiction psychiatrist, consultant, and researcher at St. Patrick’s Hospital in Ireland frequently gives clinical senior lectures at Trinity College Dublin on his research findings, and has written many scientific articles related to addiction and mental health. He discussed some of his findings during a lecture in 2013.
Dr. Connor Farren quote

What’s the Connection Between Alcohol Use Disorder and Suicide?

George Murphy, MD and Richard Wetzel, PhD noted in a psychiatry study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that people with alcoholism are 120 times more likely to commit suicide than those who do not misuse alcohol. Of suicide victims as a whole in America, 29% were found with alcohol in their system.

People with alcoholism are 120 times more likely to die from suicide

Excessive alcohol use, whether that is binge-drinking or alcohol misuse, puts the brain in a state where decision-making is impaired. 

Binge-drinking is defined in the medical profession by five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women over a period of two hours. As for alcohol use disorder, this would be 15 or more drinks for males and 12 or more drinks for females per week.

For example, let’s say the person who struggles from depression from his recent relationship fallout turns to alcohol as a way to self-medicate. It doesn’t take long for him to realize that alcohol helps him escape having to live in a sober world with the pain that he feels. 

So, he takes up drinking more both in amount and frequency. He gets so deep into this state of mind that his previously existing mental health issues mixed with alcohol make him feel he would be better off ending his life. One night when he has drunk too much, he commits suicide. Sadly, he is someone who has fallen victim to alcohol use disorder and suicide.

The Rundown on Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder occurs when someone drinks so much that their body becomes dependent on alcohol. It can further lead to issues in one’s life including physical health problems, mental health problems, loss of a job, legal and financial complications, loss of relationships, or even death.

Oftentimes, people have different symptoms, but a common one is wanting to cut back on how much alcohol is consumed, but being unsuccessful. It is also quite common to fail in fulfilling obligations at work, school, or home, thus causing further physical, social, or interpersonal problems.

According to the Mayo Clinic, some signs can include

  • Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Spending a lot of time drinking, getting alcohol, or recovering from alcohol use
  • Feeling a strong craving or urge to drink alcohol
  • Giving up or reducing social and work activities and hobbies
  • Using alcohol in situations where it's not safe, such as when driving or swimming
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol so you need more to feel its effect, or you have a reduced effect from the same amount
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms — such as nausea, sweating, and shaking — when you don't drink, or drinking to avoid these symptoms

Risk factors can include

  • Steady drinking over time
  • Starting at an early age
  • Family history
  • Depression and other mental health problems
  • History of trauma
  • Social and cultural factors
Dr. Conor Farren has completed proficient research in the fields of mental health and addiction. It comes as no surprise that he came to the conclusion that alcohol use disorder is a strong contributor to suicide, and discusses that relationship in the  same lecture.
Dr. Connor Farren quote 2

Suicide Is Serious, and All Too Common

Suicide is the act of taking one’s own life, often in a highly emotionally charged or temporarily irrational state of mind. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, taking the lives of approximately 47,000 Americans each year.

Suicide is 10th leading cause of death

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some signs indicating one may be contemplating suicide include

Talking about

  • Wanting to die
  • Needing a way out
  • Feeling a lot of guilt or shame
  • Being a burden to others
  • Having no reason to live

Feeling

  • Empty, alone, hopeless, or trapped
  • Extremely sad, more anxious, agitated, or full of rage
  • Unbearable emotional or physical pain

It is also quite common for those inclined to suicide to change their behavior in a variety of ways. This can include making a plan or researching ways to die, withdrawing or saying goodbye, avoiding social interactions, or giving away personal items. Some other changes in behavior can include

  • Taking part in risky behavior such as driving extremely fast
  • Searching for a means of inducing harm, such as buying a gun
  • Displaying extreme mood swings
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Eating more or less than usual, resulting in significant weight gain or loss
  • Using drugs or alcohol more often

There are a lot of reasons behind why someone could be inclined to commit suicide. Some may not be as common, but there is commonality in those who have recently lost a loved one (suicide-related or not), someone who has long-term pain or terminal illness, or those who have a history of violent and impulsive behavior. 

People at risk can also include

  • People who have attempted suicide in the past
  • People with a family history of suicide
  • People with a history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • People with substance misuse problems

How Can I Help a Loved One?

When it comes to helping someone with an alcohol use disorder or suicidal ideation, the most important step in the process is for them to realize it themselves or acknowledge that the problem exists. 

Maybe their struggle is news to you, and you’re understandably overwhelmed with how to help. It is important to offer help in a non-judgmental and non-confrontational way. People who receive support and care from loved ones are more likely to get the treatment they need. When it comes to being by their side and helping them through a difficult time, always remember to

Be supportive and encouraging.

Acknowledge their feelings are legitimate.

Listen and don’t minimize the problems.

And most importantly, assure them they are not alone, and help is here.

Pinnacle Peak Is Focused on Your Recovery

Pinnacle Peak Recovery is an inpatient and intensive outpatient treatment facility that offers nationally recognized, evidence-based treatment options. We strive to provide our clients with the most effective treatments available. Our client care options include access to medical detox and physician-directed medication management. Our programs include therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, individual and group therapy, trauma therapy, family therapy, and others.

Alcohol Use Disorder and Suicide

Pinnacle Peak Recovery is committed to the highest level of service and helping our clients succeed in their recovery to go on to live healthy lives full of hope and purpose. Our comprehensive and holistic approach to overcoming chemical dependency, alcoholism, and co-occurring mental health disorders gives every client that walks through our doors access to the treatments, therapies, and skill sets needed to start a new, healthy life. If you or someone you know needs help, call us at 866-377-4761. Healing begins here.

Disclaimer: If you are feeling suicidal, in danger of hurting yourself, or know someone who is, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Certified crisis response professionals are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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