Drink Tank

Alcohol and suicide

How often as you sip a cool, crisp Chardonnay or savour the peppery flavours of a bold Shiraz do you think about the effect that alcohol has on the brain? I suspect most people would answer the same as me – “not too often”.

Alcohol has a well-established place in our social lives. We share it during good times with family and friends; we celebrate special days; we toast our success.

But for some alcohol consumption is taken to excess and has far reaching effects from which one cannot return. For this group of people alcohol can become a crutch, a catalyst and a destroyer.

The link between alcohol and suicide is well established but its precise role is ambiguous. Alcohol in itself does not cause suicide. The majority of people who consume alcohol will never attempt to take their own life. Yet alcohol abuse and particular patterns of alcohol consumption and behaviours may have direct and indirect causal links with an increased risk of suicide.

Alcohol is a depressant. Its first action is to depress the inhibitory section of the brain resulting in relaxed and outgoing behaviours. As consumption increases the depressant action on the brain extends to other control centres. In a few people this can act as a tipping point for pre-existing suicide risk factors.

Long-term chronic use of alcohol can lead to physical health problems, family breakdown and social isolation; factors which can increase a person’s risk of suicide.

What needs to be done to lower alcohol consumption in support of suicide prevention initiatives?

  1. All people need to adhere to the NHMRC guidelines on alcohol consumption
  2. Maintain good physical health through regular exercise and sound nutrition
  3. Provide support and remain connected to anyone you know who has a mental disorder.

The last point is critical because connectedness and a sense of self-worth are both important positive factors in preventing suicide.

Here I talk about alcohol risk and suicide. There are in fact many other risk factors.

Discover more about suicide prevention from sector leaders at the National Suicide Prevention Conference in Melbourne on the 24 – 26 July.

If you or someone you know may be at risk, Lifeline can help 13 11 14?

Photo: courtesy of EJMPhoto

Sue Murray

Sue’s background in education and health promotion has underpinned a career spanning more than 25 years in the community sector leading programs in education, media, communications and fundraising.

After 10 years leading the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Sue built on her experience to establish the George Foundation for Global Health and is now leading Suicide Prevention Australia.

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