The odds that a man who commits suicide will have alcohol in his system go up in counties with relatively large numbers of bars and liquor stores, a new study finds.
In the U.S. and other countries, significant numbers of people commit suicide by ingesting alcohol by itself or in combination with another substance. In addition, alcohol consumption plays an important role in a large number of suicides not directly caused by substance intake. In a study published in October 2014 in the journal Addiction, a team of American and Canadian researchers looked at the impact that alcohol availability has on the rate of alcohol-involved suicide. Specifically, these researchers looked at the availability of alcohol at on-site drinking locations such as restaurants and bars, as well as the availability of alcohol at purchasing locations such as convenience stores and liquor stores.
Alcohol as a Means of Suicide
Roughly 1 percent of all suicides in the U.S. caused by the intake of a single substance are alcohol-related suicides, according to figures gathered in the first decade of the 2000s through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Violent Death Reporting System. In addition, approximately 31 percent of suicides caused by the intake of multiple substances involve a combination of alcohol and some sort of prescription medication. Roughly 2 percent of multiple substance suicides involve a combination of alcohol, prescription medications and recreational drugs, while approximately 1 percent involves just alcohol and recreational drugs. Population groups particularly likely to commit suicide by ingesting alcohol, medications/drugs or a combination of substances include women, European Americans and middle-aged Americans. It’s worth noting that the available figures from the National Violent Death Reporting System include data from only 16 states: Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Alcohol as a Suicide Contributor
Alcohol consumption significantly increases the average person’s likelihood of acting in unusually impulsive or aggressive ways. This is critically important, since both impulsive and aggressive behavior can lead to an increase in suicidal thinking and/or suicidal actions. Many drinkers who try to kill themselves have clinically diagnosable symptoms of alcohol use disorder (alcoholism/alcohol abuse); however, drinking in a person unaffected by this disorder can also contribute to a suicidal frame of mind. Compared to people who survive suicide attempts, people who actually commit suicide have a higher average blood-alcohol level. This fact stems, in part, from the tendency of alcohol consumers to choose more lethal suicide options. In a person with no history of mental illness, alcohol intake level plays an especially prominent role in determining overall suicide risks.
Impact of Alcohol Availability
In the study published in Addiction, researchers from Portland State University, the University of Rochester, the University of Texas, Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and several other institutions used data drawn from the National Violent Death Reporting System between the years 2003 and 2011 to explore the role that alcohol availability plays in suicides directly or indirectly related to the consumption of alcohol. A total of 51,547 cases of alcohol-involved suicide fatality were included in the project. These cases came from 14 of the 16 states supplying figures to the National Violent Death Reporting System. On a county-by-county basis, the researchers compared the number of alcohol-involved suicide fatalities to the number of businesses selling alcohol for on-site consumption (bars, restaurants, etc.) or off-site consumption (liquor stores, convenience stores, etc.).
After completing their comparisons, the researchers concluded that the odds that a man who commits suicide will have alcohol in his system increase in counties with relatively large numbers of liquor and convenience stores. On a racial/ethnic level, people with American Indian/Native Alaska ancestry have the highest chances of having alcohol purchased from a liquor store or convenience store in their systems at the time of a successful suicide attempt. The researchers also concluded that the relative availability of alcohol in bars, restaurants and similar establishments has a significant impact on the chances that a man will commit suicide with any amount of alcohol circulating in his bloodstream.