Alcohol and suicidal thoughts

If you fear for your own safety, or for the safety of someone else, get help as a matter of urgency - call 999 or go to A&E. 

This guide provides information on how alcohol can contribute to suicidal thoughts:

When times are tough, many people have thoughts about deliberately taking their own life. In this very upsetting and dangerous situation many people turn to drink to try to cope with these feelings unaware that alcohol can make the situation a lot worse.

Getting help in an emergency

If you fear for your own safety, or for the safety of someone else, get help as a matter of urgency - call 999 or go to A&E.

If you or someone you know needs some support immediately, here are some options:

  • Contact the Samaritans by calling their free 24-hour helpline: 116 123, or visit their website: www.samaritans.org
  • Contact your GP and ask for an emergency appointment
  • Mental health charity Mind have a useful webpage offering practical tips on how to cope right now

What causes suicidal thoughts?

People may start thinking about suicide when they have problems they feel they can’t solve. 

Everyone’s experience is different. You might be feeling useless, unwanted or unneeded, or feel that people in your life would be better off without you. You might be experiencing severe depression that you don’t feel you can recover from. Even if you don’t actually feel you want to die, you may feel that you can’t go on living with the pain you’re experiencing.

What’s the link between alcohol and suicidal thoughts?

Depression can worsen if someone is binge drinking or regularly drinking heavily. What’s more, research shows drinking can actually cause depression1, because of the way alcohol disrupts your brain’s delicate balance of chemicals and processes.

Alcohol and depression

Drinking and depression can become a vicious circle, where you drink to numb your problems, then feel more depressed afterwards as the alcohol leaves your brain, leaving you wanting another drink. And because alcohol slows down your brain, you may not spot solutions to your problems as easily as you would if you were sober.

It’s important to seek help from your GP if you think you may be depressed.

Alcohol and self-harm

The NHS Choices website describes self-harm as being when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body, often as a way of coping with or expressing overwhelming emotional distress2.

The way alcohol affects how your brain works can also lead to self-harming – it makes us less inhibited and may impair our judgement, so we do things we wouldn’t otherwise. 

A study by the NHS in Scotland found that of the people who ended up in hospital because they’d injured themselves on purpose, more than half said they’d drunk alcohol immediately before or while doing it. 27% of the men and 19% of the women in the study said that alcohol was the reason they’d harmed themselves3

Alcohol can also make people behave recklessly or take risks they wouldn’t normally. So you might end up doing something that could kill you, such as getting in the car and driving dangerously, even if you aren’t sure that you really want to commit suicide. 

Studies around the world have found alcohol in the bodies of many people who have committed suicide4.

How drinking less can help

If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, you should get help as a matter of urgency. 

Stopping drinking, or following the Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidance, will help prevent alcohol influencing you to do something you wouldn’t otherwise. 

Your brain will begin to recover and function more normally within about 48 hours after you stop drinking, which may help you to see things more clearly and feel less depressed. 

It may also be easier for the people around you to offer support and for you to find solutions to your problems. According to Mind, the majority of people who have felt suicidal recover and go on to live fulfilling lives5.

Read our practical advice on cutting down your drinking

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Last review: 18 August 2017 

Next review due: 18 August 2020

 

References
  1. Boden and Fergusson (2011), Alcohol and Depression. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/David_Fergusson/publication/50303291_Alcohol_and_depression/links/02bfe51155fdf4e5c2000000.pdf, [Accessed 14 August 2017]
  2. NHS Choice, Self-harm (2017). Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/self-injury/Pages/Introduction.aspx [Accessed 14 August 2017]
  3. NHS Quality Improvement Scotland, Understanding Alcohol Misuse in Scotland: Harmful Drinking Three – Alcohol and Self-harm, 2007. Available at: http://bit.ly/TbBYAX, [Accessed 14 August 2017]
  4. L. Sher; Alcohol consumption and suicide. Available at https://academic.oup.com/qjmed/article/99/1/57/1523792/Alcohol-consumption-and-suicide, [Accessed 14 August 2017]
  5. Mind, Suicidal feelings (2017). Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/suicidal-feelings/#.WZF70lV96Uk. [Accessed 14 August 2017]