Suicide remains one of the biggest taboos in society. Most people are focused on ways to extend their own lifespan. This is why there is so much interest in healthy living and medical breakthroughs. The idea that somebody might actually decide to end own their life early can be difficult to accept. Most religions would view it as a grave sin, and even secularists will view it as waste of life in most instances. Such an action not only means that the individual has cut their life short, it also has a large impact on those who are left behind.
In the United States, suicide is the 11th most common cause of death. The number of alcoholics who take their own life is extremely high. Some research suggests that up to 21% of this group die this way. It is also true that almost a quarter of those who commit suicide will be intoxicated with alcohol at the time. There is no doubt that there is a strong link between alcohol and suicide.
The French sociologist Emile Durkheim identified four different types of suicide:
* Altruistic suicide occurs when the individual feels compelled to commit suicide for the good of the group. A classic example of this would be the soldier who uses his body to cover a grenade in order to save his comrades.
* Egotistical suicide occurs when people don’t feel they belong within society. The individual feels completely alone in the world. This might explain why there is a much higher rate of suicide among single men.
* Fatalistic suicide occurs when the individual feels trapped in life that is overly regulated. A good example of this would be those kill themselves in prison.
* Anomic suicide happens because the rules in society are unclear and the individual is unsure about where they fit in – it is the opposite of fatalistic suicide. If a society is going through a period of major upheavals it can lead to increased incidences of people killing themselves for this reason.
As well as alcohol there is also a number of other known risk factors associated with suicide including:
* Previous attempts at suicide
* Family history of suicide
* Traumatic events in the past
* Recent romantic breakup
* Chronic pain
* Legal problems
* Terminal illness
* Long-term unemployment
* Guilt about harm done to other people
* Males are more likely to commit suicide than females
* Recent loss of a loved one
Those who kill themselves will often do so impulsively. The individual is so overwhelmed by their emotions that they are unable to comprehend the consequences of their actions. Those who are under a great deal of stress may entertain the idea of killing themselves. When they consider such an action rationally it usually appears as the wrong choice – a permanent solution to a temporary problem. If the individual is unable to think rationally though they can impulsively end their own life. Alcohol is well known for its ability to interfere with rational thought and make people act impulsively.
There are a number of reasons why alcohol can increase the risk of suicide including:
* Alcohol is associated with having a good time, but it is actually works as a depressant. If the individual is already feeling bad when they start drinking they will usually feel a lot worse afterwards. This further deterioration of mood can be enough to tip people over the edge.
* Alcohol abuse can induce depression. Those who are depressed are far more likely to kill themselves. It is estimated that 40% of people who abuse alcohol will have depressive symptoms.
* Alcohol makes people act impulsively. Suicide is often an impulsive act with no thoughts about the consequences.
* Alcohol also increases levels of aggression which is also closely associated with suicide.
* Alcoholism leads to deterioration in the life of the individual. It will lead to them losing friends, family, employment, and possessions. This will greatly increase the amount of stress they will have to deal with in life.
People who become physically and psychologically addicted to alcohol suffer greatly. They will also often be aware of the impact their behavior is having on other people but still feel helpless to stop. They can experience a lot of guilt and shame about their broken promises to change their behavior. If such individuals lose hope of ever finding an escape from addiction they may view suicide as the only way out.
A common belief about alcoholism is that the individual needs to reach rock bottom before they can be helped. They have to be beaten by life into submission. While there is some wisdom in this idea, it can also be a dangerous way to deal with addiction. For many individuals their rock bottom will be suicide. It is therefore important for such people to get help before reaching this stage.
There is also the argument that alcoholism is a slow form of suicide. Those who don’t manage to escape their addiction will most often die because of it. The individual is well aware that their addiction is compelling them towards death, but they feel unable to resist. As alcoholism leads to further deterioration in the life of the individual they may even wish for the end to come quickly. Some claim that alcoholism and suicide are actually caused by the same underlying problems.
Sometimes people will commit suicide impulsively while under the influence of alcohol. In many cases there will be warning signs such as:
* The individual may talk about suicide openly. If a person threatens to kill themselves it should always be taken seriously.
* They may give away possessions
* Long period of low mood with pessimism about the future
* A sudden period of happiness after an episode of depression. The individual may feel relieved to have found a permanent solution to their problems.
* They may talk to people as if they are not going to see them again
* Increased use of alcohol or drugs
* Withdrawing from family and friends
* An obsession with death
* Actively seeking tools to commit suicide with
* Impulsive acts
Suicide can usually be prevented if the right steps are taken in time. This could involve the suicidal individual taking the necessary action or another individual recognizing the symptoms and offering help. Suicide prevention includes:
* Anyone who experiences suicidal thoughts should immediately talk to somebody else about it. In the US the National Suicide Prevention Line offers a free and confidential service on 1-800-273-TALK. It is also possible to just go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
* If an individual admits they are feeling suicide it is important that this information is not kept a secret. The normal rules of keeping a confidence do not apply here because this person’s life is at risk.
* Suicidal talk should never be ignored or downplayed.
* It is important to not make such people feel guilty about their feelings. This might only make them feel worse.
* A suicidal individual will need to be seen by a medical professional as soon as possible.
* This person should be encouraged to talk about how they are feeling. The listener should allow this individual to describe exactly what is going on inside their heads. It is important to react to such revelations in a non-judgmental manner.
* The National Suicide Prevention Line can also offer advice to friends and family of people who appear suicidal.
* Those who abuse alcohol or drugs should be made aware of the treatment options available for this. It can also help if they hear about others who have successfully transitioned into sobriety.