What percentage of suicides are due to alcohol?
December 11, 2008 5:24 PM   Subscribe

What percentage of suicides are due to alcohol? Not people who “drink themselves to death,” but people who are actually intoxicated when they kill themselves?

I guess people who "drink themselves to death" in one sitting can be included here. Mostly, though, I'm interested in people using alcohol as a disinhibitor (intentionally or not), and whether this has an appreciable effect on suicide rates.
posted by puckish to Health & Fitness (9 answers total)
Even if they were drunk when they did it, that doesn't mean the alcohol was the proximate reason for it. So it wouldn't necessary be due to alcohol.

It's common for people suffering from depression to self-medicate with alcohol, for example, but any such suicide would probably be due to depression, not due to alcohol.
posted by Class Goat at 5:35 PM on December 11, 2008

Echoing Class Goat. I think I see what the OP is getting at, but I really don't see it as measurable.

Anecdotally, I know at least one person who committed suicide while drunk. I doubt the booze was really the cause though.
posted by Richat at 5:41 PM on December 11, 2008

Well, if you're just looking for suicides involving alcohol, I found several articles online that quote something like 1/3 of all suicide victims as having alcohol in their systems. I'd try searching for "alcohol involved in suicides" or something similar. The articles I found were from all over the place date-wise.

You might also try searching the CDC "Morbidity and Mortality" report.
posted by katillathehun at 5:45 PM on December 11, 2008

There's an answer here that says 30% of all suicides are attributed to alcohol.

I think that's just in the USA, but you could probably get a rough estimate for the whole world from that.
posted by lucidium at 6:03 PM on December 11, 2008

This will vary depending on the country and the population, but here are a few stats for you:

(1) Among Native Americans in New Mexico during an 18 year period, alcohol was detected in 69% of suicides, compared to 44.3% in the overall New Mexico population. Mean blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.198 (+/- SD of .088); over 90% had a BAC higher than the legal intoxication level of 0.08. Alcohol and suicide were more highly correlated among men. [source]

(2) In an Australian study, 35.8% of suicides had a positive blood alcohol reading. Again, the correlation was stronger for men. [source]

(3) In a study in Allegheny County, PA, "the proportion of suicide victims who had detectable blood alcohol levels rose from 12.9% in 1968 to 1972 to 46.0% in 1978 to 1983. Suicide victims who used firearms were 4.9 times more likely to have been drinking than were those who used other methods of suicide." [source]

(4) In a study in Alaska between 1983-4, 79% of Native and 48% of white suicides had detectable levels of blood alcohol [source].

One recent commentary states the following:

"Acute alcohol use is associated with suicide.High (33–69%) rates of positive blood alcohol concentrations have been found among suicide completers. Alcohol intoxication increases suicide risk up to 90 times, in comparison with abstinence. A tendency of employed alcohol misusers to commit suicide during weekend has been partly explained by the direct effect of alcohol intoxication. There is evidence that alcohol intoxication predicts the use of more lethal means (e.g. a firearm) in the suicide. When intoxicated, people are more likely to attempt suicide using means that have a very low probability of survival.

It has been suggested that alcohol may play an important role in the events leading to suicide amongst individuals with no previous psychiatric history. The disinhibition produced by intoxication probably facilitates suicidal ideas and increases the likelihood of suicidal thoughts being put into action, often impulsively."
posted by googly at 6:10 PM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I believe this article from a Slovenian cohort study and this commentary in QJM (a British medical journal) are what you're looking for. To sum it up for you: anywhere from a third to two-thirds of suicides have alcohol in their system, depending on the study and the group. The Slovenian study, for example, found alcohol in 87.1% of the men, but only 12.9% of the women. This is pretty typical of the gender dichotomy in suicide.

If you need more information, you can go here, and here is a graph showing the correlation between drinking and suicide.

Grim stuff, I know, but alcohol abuse is just one of the many warning signs for suicidal behavior, which is why I hope this question is just morbid curiosity on your part. If it's not, though, and you think someone you know is at risk please talk to them, or have them talk to someone, anyone. I'll talk to them, if needs be. Losing someone that way...it's a pain that never really goes away. So please please, do something, anything, before it's too late.
posted by Panjandrum at 6:38 PM on December 11, 2008

I also wouldn't be surprised if where you see an increased incidence of suicide rates (say in the the South of India where the suicide rate is the highest in the world) you also see an increase incidence of alcoholism)*.

*Prasad, J., Abraham, V. J., Minz, S., et al (2005) Rates and factors associated with suicide in Kaniyambadi Block, Tamil Nadu, South India, 2000-02. International Journal of Social Psychiatry.
posted by ageispolis at 10:01 PM on December 11, 2008

Is it possible you're confusing cause and effect? Many people who commit suicide by overdosing on prescription or over-the-counter drugs who deliberately wash them down with alcohol to magnify the damage the drugs will have on their system.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 4:30 AM on December 12, 2008

OK, information overload here, but for the United States:

Good statistics like that are hard to come by, because there are so many factors to tease apart, as you rightly point out. Googly's commentary gets the theory on the nose. It is believed that alcohol (and more broadly, substance abuse) does have an appreciable effect on suicide rates. But the passive voice isn't so useful, so:

The AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) is a pretty research-heavy non-profit funded by multiple sources. Their National Statistics page have a few notes specifically regarding alcohol use, some of which you've seen above.
* Ninety-six percent of alcoholics who die by suicide continue their substance abuse up to the end of their lives.
* Alcoholism is a factor in about 30 percent of all completed suicides.
* Approximately 7 percent of those with alcohol dependence will die by suicide.

The SPRC is a solely federally-funded non-profit whose job it is to get good research and offer it to whoever wants/needs it. If you get stuck (and especially if you're looking for state data), you can give them a shout. Their Data page is pretty rich with good links, including:

With some more effort than I've been able to put into it this morning, you may be able to get that specific, solid national or multi-state data from WISQUARS, where you can build your own report from CDC Data, rather than using the pre-made MMWR reports. Now including using National Violent Death Reporting data!! (though with only around a third of states using it, it's not quite "national." yet.). In all cases, alcohol is considered a poison, so that's the subcategory to hone in on. I've gotten a lot out of the Fatal and Non-Fatal data, but haven't had a chance to dig into NVDR yet, but the grayed out check-boxes make me giddy for future prospects.

Other resources that I really should mention to check out if you need to drill down further are the American Association of Suicidology (multi-funded) and it never hurts to poke around the abstracts on the Journal of Suicidal and Life-Threatening Behavior (private pub co). My quick search results on keywords: Alcohol and Suicide.
posted by Sweetdefenestration at 7:17 AM on December 12, 2008

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