The Link Between Alcohol and Suicide

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

August 17, 2023

Table of Contents

Alcohol and suicide can be closely intertwined. This guide explores the link between alcoholism and suicide, highlighting the factors that contribute to this connection and providing guidance on how to support those facing challenges in life that may appear insurmountable.

Today, you will discover:

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  • How are addiction and suicide linked?
  • What is suicide by alcohol poisoning?
  • Male alcoholics and suicide.
  • How to prevent alcoholism suicide.
  • Suicidal when drunk: what to do next?
  • How to help a suicidal alcoholic friend connect with treatment in Southern California.

Disclaimer: If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. Contact a mental health professional, a trusted friend, a family member, or a helpline like a suicide prevention hotline.

How Are Suicide and Alcohol Related?

The link between alcohol and suicide is a complex and deeply concerning issue that illustrates a troubling connection between alcohol and suicidal tendencies. Research indicates that there is a significant relationship between alcoholism, drunk thoughts, and suicidal thoughts, often stemming from the impact of alcohol on mental health and well-being.

Alcohol consumption can be a contributing factor to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Many people turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication to cope with mental health conditions and mood disorders, or to alleviate anxiety and trauma. Regrettably, chronic and excessive use of alcohol can lead to the development of tolerance, dependence, and addiction, aggravating the very issues it was meant to address and introducing a new problem in the form of alcohol use disorder. What may initially seem like a way to ease emotional pain becomes a burden, harming relationships, responsibilities, and even physical health.

Although alcohol might provide temporary relief from suicidal thoughts, long-term alcohol abuse can:

The association between alcohol and suicidal thoughts is complex and multi-faceted. Alcohol’s immediate effects on brain function, such as increased impulsiveness due to binge drinking, can lead to reckless actions, including self-harm and suicide. Additionally, alcohol can suppress the brain’s inhibitory functions, causing individuals to act on thoughts that they might not have acted on while sober. There is also evidence of a link between alcohol and self-harm, further emphasizing the intricate relationship between substance misuse and suicidal tendencies.

Stopping or reducing alcohol consumption can play a significant role in preventing feelings of depression that can provoke suicidal thoughts. It also helps people avoid impulsive actions that they might consider while under the influence of alcohol. This issue is especially relevant for men who are at higher risk of suicide and often turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism during times of stress.

A man looks out at a beach representing alcoholics and suicide

What is Chronic Alcohol Abuse?

Chronic alcohol abuse or chronic alcoholism is clinically described as alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder is a pattern of excessive and harmful alcohol consumption that goes beyond moderate and controlled drinking. It is a chronic medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to control alcohol intake despite negative consequences on various aspects of a person’s life, including social, occupational, and health-related areas.

These are the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder:

  1. Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol consumed.
  2. Making efforts to cut down on alcohol consumption without success.
  3. Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, consuming, or recovering from alcohol use.
  4. Experiencing strong cravings or urges to drink alcohol.
  5. Failing to fulfill important obligations at work, school, or home due to alcohol use.
  6. Continuing to drink alcohol despite it causing physical or psychological health issues.
  7. Ongoing alcohol abuse even though it is adversely impacting personal relationships.
  8. Giving up or reducing important social, work, or recreational activities due to alcohol use.
  9. Using alcohol in situations where it is unsafe, such as while driving or swimming.
  10. Developing tolerance, meaning that more alcohol is required to achieve the desired effects or experiencing reduced effects from the same amount of alcohol.
  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms like sweating, tremors, nausea, and anxiety, when alcohol use is reduced or stopped.

Chronic alcohol abuse carries both short-term and long-term health risks. In the short term, it can lead to accidents, injuries, violent behavior, risky sexual behaviors, and alcohol poisoning. In the long term alcohol misuse can trigger serious health complications like stroke, heart disease,, liver disease, various cancers (including liver, mouth, bowel, and breast cancers), and damage to the brain. Additionally, long-term alcohol misuse is associated with social consequences, including problems with relationships, employment, and legal issues.

While incurable, chronic alcoholism is a treatable condition. Treatment options include behavioral therapies, support groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), and sometimes medications. Early intervention is always beneficial since even mild alcoholism can escalate and lead to serious problems if left untreated.

How to Help a Suicidal Alcoholic

Helping a person who is both suicidal and struggling with alcohol abuse requires a sensitive and supportive approach. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Show empathy and non-judgment: Approach the person with empathy and without judgment when broaching the subject of suicide by drinking. Let them know that you care about their well-being and are there to support them.
  • Encourage communication: Encourage the person to talk about their feelings and struggles. Create a safe space for them to share their thoughts and emotions.
  • Listen actively: Listen actively and attentively to what they have to say. Avoid interrupting or offering solutions too quickly. Sometimes, just being heard can provide relief.
  • Seek professional help: If the person is in immediate danger of suicide by alcohol, call emergency services (such as 911) or take them to the nearest emergency room. Encourage them to seek help from mental health professionals, therapists, or counselors who are experienced in dealing with both suicidal ideation and alcohol misuse.
  • Contact helplines: Provide them with helpline numbers which provides confidential support 24/7 for those concerned about suicide drinking. Remind them that they do not have to go through this alone.
  • Avoid alcohol consumption: If the person is intoxicated, it is best to wait until they are sober to have a more productive conversation about their feelings and struggles.
  • Remove alcohol from the home: If the person has access to alcohol or means to harm themselves, work together to remove those items from their immediate environment.
  • Stay connected: Stay connected with the person and check in on them regularly. Let them know that you are there to support them through their journey.
  • Encourage professional treatment: Encourage the person to seek treatment for both their alcohol misuse and their mental health. Integrated treatment approaches that address both issues simultaneously are almost always more effective.
  • Offer distraction: Engage in activities that can help distract them from their negative thoughts. This may include going for a walk, watching a movie, or doing something they enjoy.
  • Involve support network: If the person is open to it, involve their friends, family, or other support network. Having a strong support system can make a significant difference, especially in the challenging early phase of recovery.
  • Educate yourself: Educate yourself about the link between alcohol and suicidal thoughts. Understanding the relationship can help you provide more informed support.

Remember: while you can provide support, it is imperative to involve professionals who are trained to deal with complex situations like these. Your role is to offer care, empathy, and encouragement to seek help from the appropriate sources.

FAQs

Why do people get suicidal when drunk?

Alcohol can lower inhibitions, impair judgment, and affect mood regulation. This combination can lead some people to experience heightened emotional distress and impulsive thoughts, including suicidal ideation, while under the influence.

Are addiction and suicide connected?

Yes, there is a connection between addiction and suicide. Substance abuse, especially drugs and alcohol, can contribute to feelings of hopelessness and exacerbate mental health issues, increasing the risk of suicidal behavior.

What should I do if I feel suicidal when drunk?

If you’re feeling suicidal while intoxicated, reach out for support immediately. Contact a trusted friend, family member, or a helpline like a suicide prevention hotline. It is also advisable to avoid alcohol if you are experiencing emotional distress.

Can alcohol cause depression?

Yes, excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to depression. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and its effects on neurotransmitters can disrupt mood regulation and lead to depressive symptoms, especially with chronic or heavy use.

Treatment for Depression and Alcohol Addiction

Individuals struggling with both depression and alcohol addiction – dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder – require comprehensive and specialized treatment. Effective treatment should address both depression and alcohol addiction simultaneously. An integrated approach involves mental health professionals and addiction specialists collaborating to create a comprehensive treatment plan.

Assessment

A thorough assessment by medical professionals is essential to determine the severity of depression and its potential links to alcohol use. This assessment guides treatment decisions and identifies any medical complications.

Medically supervised detoxification

If alcohol dependence is severe, a medically supervised detoxification may be necessary to manage withdrawal symptoms safely. Detox addresses the issue of physical dependence and serves as a springboard to ongoing inpatient or outpatient treatment.

Ongoing inpatient or outpatient treatment

During ongoing treatment, individual and group therapy sessions play a central role in tackling both conditions. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), DBT (dialectical behavior therapy), and MET (motivational enhancement therapy) are commonly used to address depressive symptoms and addiction-related behaviors. Holistic therapies such as mindfulness, yoga, art therapy, and meditation can contribute to overall well-being and stress reduction. Additionally, mental health professionals may prescribe medications to manage depression symptoms. Some FDA-approved medications can help reduce alcohol cravings or make drinking less appealing, supporting the recovery process.

Relapse prevention and management

Learning coping strategies and relapse prevention techniques is essential to avoid returning to alcohol use as a way to cope with depressive symptoms. Inpatient or outpatient rehab allows individuals to develop and practice various coping mechanisms.

Lifestyle adjustments: embracing sober living

Lifestyle adjustments, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep, can positively impact both mental health and addiction recovery. Participating in support groups or 12-step programs like AA can provide a sense of community and connection with others facing similar challenges.

Long-term aftercare

Recovery is an ongoing process due to the chronic and relapsing nature of dual diagnosis. Long-term aftercare plans, such as ongoing therapy, check-ins with medical professionals, and ongoing support group participation, are vital for maintaining progress. Consult with qualified healthcare professionals to tailor a treatment plan that addresses your specific needs. Seeking help from professionals who specialize in dual diagnosis treatment can significantly improve the chances of successful recovery from both depression and alcohol addiction.

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Get Compassionate Care for Mental Health and Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

Renaissance Recovery Center in Southern California specializes in providing comprehensive outpatient treatment for various addictions and mental health conditions. Our dedicated dual diagnosis treatment programs offer tailored support and structure, ensuring that you receive the care you need. Choose from the following outpatient treatment options:

  • PHP (partial hospitalization program): Receive intensive support and treatment while maintaining the flexibility of living at home. This is our most intensive form of treatment.
  • IOP (intensive outpatient program): Engage in structured therapy and counseling sessions that fit your schedule and needs.
  • OP (outpatient program): Access ongoing care and treatment as you continue with your daily life or step down from a more intensive level of care at our Huntington Beach facility.

All Renaissance treatment programs incorporate individualized addiction treatment that blends holistic and evidence-based interventions, including:

Ready to take the crucial first step towards a brighter future? Contact our friendly admissions team at 866.330.9449. Your journey to recovery begins with a supportive and specialized approach at Renaissance Recovery Center.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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