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The Connection Between Alcoholism and Suicide +How to Help

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Key Takeaways

  • People who abuse alcohol are at a higher risk for depression and suicide
  • Alcoholism is linked with a suicide risk 10 times greater than those in the general population
  • The combination of a worse mood, lower self-control, and negative thinking means people are more likely to act on suicidal thoughts when drinking
  • Alcohol affects the brain’s chemistry, increasing the risk of depression and other mental health conditions
  • Treatment for suicidal ideation and alcoholism includes medication, therapy, or a combination of the two
  • If you’re having suicidal thoughts, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and help from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one is in immediate danger, call 911

How are Alcohol and Suicide Connected?

People with alcohol use disorder (AUD) are at a higher risk for depression and suicide. 

Evidence suggests that those with alcohol use problems are more likely to experience:1

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Suicide attempts
  • Death due to suicide

If you or someone else needs help, call 911 immediately for medical attention.

Alcohol Use and Suicide Statistics

Alcohol dependence or misuse diagnosis is linked with a suicide risk 10 times greater than the general population.8

Of those medically treated following a suicide attempt, alcohol use disorders were found to be a significant link. Acute alcohol intoxication was present in approximately 30 to 40 percent of cases. Alcohol intoxication is involved in around 22 percent of all suicide deaths.8

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How Alcohol Affects Suicide and Suicidal Attempts

Alcohol contributes to reduced inhibition and affects clear thinking.7 As a result, people may be more likely to act on thoughts relating to suicide or self-injury.

Drinking alcohol also affects mood, making people more likely to think about suicide. Although many people think drinking alcohol improves their mood, it is actually a depressant.

The combination of a worse mood, lower self-control, and negative thinking means that people are more likely to act on suicidal thoughts when drinking. 

Alcohol also increases aggressiveness and psychological distress while reducing cognition. Alcohol can motivate people to act on their suicidal thoughts while lessening their ability to use other coping strategies.

Alcohol’s Correlation with Depression

Alcohol affects the brain’s chemistry, increasing the risk of:

  • Depression
  • Feeling unwell, jittery, anxious, and guilty
  • Having issues with interpersonal or work relationships
  • Having sexual or memory problems

Many people who commit suicide have a history of depression and alcohol misuse.2

It’s also common for alcohol use disorders to occur alongside other mental health conditions, like:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Personality disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Other substance use disorders

Treatment for Suicidal Ideation and Alcoholism

Treatment for suicidal ideation and alcoholism includes medication, therapy, or a combination. 

The type of treatment provided varies by person and the severity of their problems with alcohol and mental health conditions.

People should be aware of the risk factors that increase the likelihood of suicide among people who misuse alcohol, including:

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

Specific programs provide support and life skills training to help protect people from suicide and substance abuse.

Identifying and treating alcoholism is an essential part of suicide prevention. A failure to pinpoint specific alcohol-related disorders can lead to increased morbidity and deaths of those at risk of suicide.

Rehabilitation

Rehab treatment often begins with a detox program that helps manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms in a medical setting. This usually takes between 2 and 7 days. Some people may need to take sedating medications to treat withdrawal symptoms.3

Detox usually takes place at an inpatient treatment center or a hospital. 

After the detox period, learning new skills and making a treatment plan with alcohol treatment specialists are the next steps.

This part of rehab may include:

  • Goal setting
  • Behavior change techniques
  • The use of self-help manuals
  • Counseling
  • Follow-up care at a treatment center

Medications

There are three FDA-approved medications for alcohol use disorders.

A drug called disulfiram may help stop you from drinking. However, it won’t cure alcohol use disorder or reduce the urge to drink.3

If you drink while taking disulfiram, the medicine produces a severe and unpleasant physical reaction that may include:

  • Flushing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches

Naltrexone is a drug that blocks the positive feelings alcohol causes. It may prevent heavy drinking and reduce the urge to drink.3

Vivitrol is a version of naltrexone that’s injected once a month by a medical professional. Although naltrexone can be taken in pill form, the injectable version may be easier for people recovering from alcoholism to use consistently.

Acamprosate is a medicine that may help you deal with alcohol cravings once you stop drinking.3 

Counseling

Counseling and therapy for groups and individuals help people to understand their problems with alcohol. Some may benefit from couples or family therapy as family support can be essential in recovery.

Marital and family counseling works to strengthen and repair relationships. It can also help people maintain abstinence.  

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How to Help or Get Help

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and help from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one is in immediate danger, call 911.

If someone you love or care about has an issue with alcohol or you’ve noticed them behaving out of the ordinary, it’s essential not to jump to conclusions. Throwing around accusations could make them feel attacked and escalate the situation. 

Instead, speak with a treatment provider. They can help you decide on a course of action and ensure you have all the tools required to get the help you or your loved one needs.

You may also benefit from seeking support from a trusted friend or family member. Al-Anon is a 12-step program for those who are affected by others AUD. It can be very helpful for some people.

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Updated on October 3, 2022
8 sources cited
  1. Edwards, Alexis C, et al. “Alcohol Use Disorder and Risk of Suicide in a Swedish Population-Based Cohort.” The American journal of psychiatry, 2020.
  2. Pompili, Maurizio, et al. “Suicidal behavior and alcohol abuse.” International journal of environmental research and public health, 2010.
  3. Alcohol use disorder, Mayo Clinic, 2022.
  4. Rizk, Mina M, et al. “Suicide Risk and Addiction: The Impact of Alcohol and Opioid Use Disorders.” Current addiction reports, 2021.
  5. Darvishi, Nahid, et al. “Alcohol-related risk of suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, and completed suicide: a meta-analysis,” 2015.
  6. Rahoof, Febina V, et al. “Suicidal Ideation among Persons with Alcohol Use Disorder: A Cross-Sectional Study.” Journal of psychosocial well-being, 2021.
  7. Gan, Gabriela, et al. “Alcohol-induced impairment of inhibitory control is linked to attenuated brain responses in right fronto-temporal cortex,” 2014.
  8. Substance use and suicide: A nexus requiring a Public health approach, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), 2016.

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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.

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