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Alcohol, suicide and self-harm

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There is a strong link between alcohol, suicide and self-harm.¹,²

Alcohol is a risk factor for suicide

Usually a number of factors together increase a person’s risk of suicidal behaviour. These include mental health problems, social isolation, drug use, traumatic life events and family history of suicide. Alcohol is an important risk factor.3  In Ireland, alcohol is a factor in:

  • More than half of all completed suicides4
  • Over 1 in every 3 cases of deliberate self-harm5

Hospital emergency departments see far more cases of self-harm on days when people are likely to have been drinking, such as after public holidays and weekends.6

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that the risk of suicide when a person is currently abusing alcohol is 8 times greater than if they were not abusing alcohol.

 

Alcohol is a risk factor we can influence. For people at risk of self-harm and suicide, it is important to recognise how alcohol can increase the risk and keep within the low-risk drinking guidelines.

  

Men are particularly at risk of suicide, and our youth suicide rate is high

  • Overall, the male suicide rate is approximately four times the female rate.7
  • Suicide is the leading cause of death among young Irish men aged 15 to 24.
  • Our suicide rate for 15-19 year-olds is the fourth highest compared with 30 other European countries.

A study of suicide in Ireland revealed that alcohol was more likely to be found in the younger age group at autopsy and up to 16% also had some type of drugs detected in their system - the ratio of males to females was five to one.9

The drinking and binge drinking culture in Ireland, which is especially strong among young people, is a factor in this.

It has been estimated that reducing Irish adolescents’ heavy drinking should reduce their rate of deliberate self-harm by at least 17%.10

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Why is alcohol linked to suicide and self-harm?

Alcohol and young people's mental health

1 Harris EC, Barraclough B. Suicide as an outcome for mental disorders. A meta-analysis. Br J Psychiatry. 1997;170:205-228.
2 Wilcox HC, Conner KR, Caine ED. Association of alcohol and drug use disorders and completed suicide: an empirical review of cohort studies. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2004;76(suppl):S11-S19.
Connecting for Life: Ireland's National Strategy to Reduce Suicide 2015-2020.: Department of Health; 2015
Suicide Statistics: National Suicide Research Foundation; Available from: http://nsrf.ie/statistics/suicide/.
5 Arensman E, Perry I, Griffin E, Corcoran P, Dillion C, Williamson E. National Self-Harm Registry Ireland: Annual Report 2014. Cork: National Suicide Research Foundation; 2015.
6 Arensman E, Perry I, Griffin E, Corcoran P, Dillion C, Williamson E. National Self-Harm Registry Ireland: Annual Report 2014. Cork: National Suicide Research Foundation; 2015.

7 Elizabeth Scowcroft (2016) Suicide statistics report 2016. Samaritans.

8 Global status report on alcohol and health 2014. Geneva: World Health Organisation; 2014.
9 Walsh B, Walsh D. Suicide in Ireland: The influence of Alcohol and unemployment. The Economic and Social Review. 2011;42(1):27–47.
10 Presentation by Prof Ella Arensman: The Impact of Alcohol on Self-harm and Suicide in Ireland. Figures based on Rossow et al (2007) Cross‐National Comparisons of the Association between Alcohol Consumption and Deliberate Self‐Harm in Adolescents

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