Does drinking make you more depressed and more likely to try to take your own life? Does depression and suicidal thoughts and behaviors trigger the urge to drink? Does an alcohol use disorder make it more likely that you will develop suicidal tendencies?
Very often, stories of suicide and attempted suicide are doused – heavily – in alcohol, leading many researchers to ask the question: Is there a link between alcohol use and suicidal thoughts or behaviors?
Availability of Alcohol
Numerous studies have been done on the subject, looking at the question from a variety of angles. For example, one such study pointed to a relationship between the availability of alcohol and the rate of suicides, finding that the number of businesses that sold alcohol in a county associated positively with suicides that were alcohol-related.
Raul Caetano, MD, PhD, is a senior research scientist at the Prevention Research Center of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in California. He was coauthor of the study, the results of which were published in the journal Addiction.
Said Dr. Caetano: “It’s pretty clear from that study that there is a relationship between alcohol outlets, such as bars, restaurants and liquor stores, and suicide. That suggests that public health policies that affect the availability of alcohol in the community can also help prevent suicide. It’s an opportunity for prevention that hasn’t been fully utilized.
“The more alcohol outlets, the more hours they’re open and the more promotions they offer – such as happy hour or ladies night – the more alcohol problems there are in the community. These factors all increase the availability of alcohol.”
In addition to limiting the number of places that a person can buy alcohol and regulating the promotions and other marketing tools that encourage its use, Dr. Caetano also suggests that high taxes on alcohol could continue to decrease sales and help to prevent alcohol-related suicide.
Many studies have shown that, like cigarettes, alcohol sales go down when alcohol taxes go up. Though the government taxes the substance to increase revenue, it also has the benefit of protecting public safety. In fact, any measure that increases the price of alcohol is correlated with a decrease in the purchase of the drug, which in turn is linked to a decrease in alcohol use disorders and associated problems, including a decrease in alcohol-related suicide.
A number of studies also show that the economic state of the country has been linked to rates of alcohol use and abuse as well as rates of suicide. Dr. Caetano was a researcher on one such study that looked into the rate of suicide that occurred before, during, and after the 2008-2011 recession here in the United States. The results of the study, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research that found that different ethnic groups were hit harder by certain issues than others in terms of alcohol use. For example, results of the study suggested that physical health issues and difficulties with employment were correlated with high blood alcohol levels among African Americans and that crises, difficulties with a significant other, and medical issues were correlated with high blood alcohol levels among Latinos.
Another study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research recognized an association between use of alcohol and committing suicide among ethnic groups across the United States, especially among Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.
Forging a Path Forward to Recovery
The gathering of evidence to help us better understand the connections between alcohol and suicide allows us to make informed decisions about how to proactively address the problem and lower rates of both alcohol use disorders and suicide. Given the studies above, it seems clear that the following should be adopted in communities across the country:
- Regulating the number of businesses allowed to sell alcohol within a certain square mile area
- Further limiting the hours that businesses are allowed to sell alcohol and in what amounts
- Increasing tax rates on all alcohol sold – not just to the consumer in the form of alcohol taxes but also to distributors and sellers, forcing an increase in cost across the board
- Increasing community support services during recessions and for those who lose their job (e.g., increased access to counseling, job skills assistance, and more)
- Increased support and alcohol addiction treatment on Native American reservations and for Alaskan Natives
- More education for medical providers and social workers so they can better support men and all ethnic groups as they face challenges that could potentially trigger alcohol abuse and suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Connect with Treatment
If you, or someone you love, are considering suicide, do not wait to reach out for help. There are solutions available, and no situation is without hope. Call the National Suicide Prevention Life at (800) 273-8255 to talk to someone or reach out to us here Greenhouse to learn more about treatment options.