Alcoholism and Suicide - The Link, Risks and Warning Signs

Alcohol and Suicide: Risks, Warning Signs & Prevention

Suicide is the intentional act of killing oneself. According to the American Psychological Association, it accounts for 2% of deaths in the United States.

Suicide is brought about by many factors, such as a history of suicide, mental disorder, child abuse, and substance or alcohol use. The latter of which proves to be most crippling, as alcoholics post a high suicide rate. As per the Montgomery County Emergency Services, about 25% of suicides in the US – which accounts for 7500 people – involve alcohol.

Why Alcoholics are More Likely to Commit Suicide

Why Alcoholics are More Likely to Commit Suicide

Experts attribute the increased number of suicides to the many effects of alcohol on the body – especially on the mind.

Alcohol increases impulsivity.

Impulsivity is a known risk factor for suicide. It helps facilitate suicidal thoughts to action. Unfortunately, alcohol use increases one’s impulsivity, which makes him at a higher risk of taking his life.

As to why this happens, Eric D. Claus attributes it to changes in the alcoholic’s brain. According to his study report, alcohol users were noted to have some sort of neural dysfunction. Changes in this brain area are linked with impulsivity. As such, a drinker finds it hard to delay gratification.

Add to that, an alcoholic usually tends to disregard the consequences of his acts – suicide included. Because of these factors, drinkers are more likely to act upon their suicidal thoughts.

Alcohol decreases inhibition.

Alcohol impairs inhibition, or the ability to stop oneself from doing something out of instinct. According to Field et al., a blood alcohol concentration of 0.06, which is equivalent to about 3 servings, is enough to decrease one’s inhibitions. Like impulsiveness, low inhibition can help make the person act on its suicidal thought.

Alcohol decreases self-esteem.

Self-esteem is the way you view yourself. Unfortunately, alcohol can affect this perception, thereby leading to low self-confidence. Sadly, it plays a role in suicides – especially in the younger population. According to Overholser et al., low self-esteem can lead to hopelessness and depression. These often lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Alcoholism can lead to depression.

Alcohol and depression are deeply connected. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the relationship works both ways. Binge drinking can make a person more depressed, as a sad individual is more likely to abuse alcohol.

Whatever the case may be, alcohol can affect brain chemistry. This can lead to depression or the worsening of the condition in some people. Sadly, depression can amplify one’s risk of committing suicide. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, those who were treated for depression were 3 times more likely to kill themselves.

Alcoholism can destroy relationships.

Relationship problems are quite common in drinkers, mostly because of the consequences that often come with alcoholism. For one, alcohol can affect your thoughts, perceptions, and emotions. Alcohol can also affect your mood, making you more aggressive or violent than usual. These changes are more than enough to precipitate a fight with a loved one.

Sadly, a relationship problem proves to be a big factor behind suicidal ideation – and the capacity to complete such a thought. To wit, separation and divorce are some of the major drivers of suicide. In fact, Scourfield and Evans have noted a higher suicide rate in countries where divorce is rampant. As such, a drinker in the midst of an alcohol-related relationship problem may find himself more willing to act upon suicidal thoughts.

Alcohol use can lead to loss of livelihood.

Apart from affecting relationships, alcohol can get in the way of work as well. It can lead to hangovers which can make you late (if not absent) for work. It can impair your coordination and concentration, thereby affecting your work performance. Such is especially alarming especially in the drinker who engages in very physical jobs, such as construction or mining. With these factors, an alcoholic may lose his job anytime soon.

Although drinkers are more secure with the presence of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, terminations are still more likely to the said population.

With that being said, loss of livelihood can lead to dire financial difficulties. This even more pronounced in people who have several mouths to feed. Such may trigger hopelessness and depression, the latter of which is a big risk factor in suicide.

Suicide Warning Signs

While most are very blatant about their desire to kill themselves, some can hide their suicidal ideations well. As such, you must be on the lookout for these warning signs, especially in alcoholics:

  • Saying goodbyes/farewells to people around him/her
  • Personality changes, such as anxiety or agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Isolation, or the desire to be left alone
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Distribution/ giving away of belongings, especially their most favorite ones
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Procurement of item/s that can be used for suicide, such as a gun, pills, etc.

How to Prevent Alcohol-Related Suicides 

Since continuous alcohol use may lead to suicide, habitual users should be treated immediately. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control identify treatment as a protective factor for suicide. As such, it can help decrease, if not eliminate, a person’s suicidal thoughts or behavior.

Treatment is especially important in a person with a dual diagnosis. This means he/she is also suffering from other mental conditions (depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc). Rehab programs can help address both of these problems, and as such can strongly reduce the person’s risk for suicide.

Easy access to clinical interventions and support, together with family and community support, may also help reduce suicidal thinking and behavior.


Suicide is a prevailing health problem that is more common in alcoholics. That’s because alcohol can increase impulsivity. It is known to decrease inhibition and self-esteem as well. Alcohol can also lead to depression, as it can destroy relationships and lead to job loss. With these factors, alcohol users have accounted for 25% of suicides in the United States.

If you are suicidal – or if you know someone who is one – make sure to get in touch with the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. You can talk to counselors by calling 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK.

Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

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