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How Alcohol and Suicide are connected – A Fact Sheet

Alcohol use has become a common social practice in Canada. Significant milestones like weddings, birthdays, and holidays are often celebrated with a toast. Yet of the 4,000 suicide deaths in our country each year, almost one in four involve alcohol. Research shows that heavy drinking may increase the risk of suicide by impairing decision making and making self-regulation more difficult. For those experiencing suicidal ideation, such drinking increases the risk of suicide exponentially.

Based on these and other insights from our Alcohol Use and Suicide webinar, we partnered with the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction to create a fact sheet summarizing what is currently known about the relationship between alcohol use and suicide, who is most affected, and how individuals and communities can effectively reduce the risk.

Alcohol use and suicide deaths in Canada

  • Suicide is the ninth leading cause of death in Canada and the second leading cause among people between 15 and 34.
  • In 2019, 37 per cent of suicides involved people between the ages of 45 and 64.
  • Three out of four people who die by suicide are men.
  • One in four deaths by suicide involve alcohol.
  • Alcohol use disorder is the second-most common mental health disorder in people who have died by suicide.

How does alcohol increase the risk of suicide?

  • Drinking alcohol may increase the risk of suicide by
    • reducing fear and inhibition
    • impairing judgment and decision making
    • increasing impulsivity and aggression
    • changing mood states (e.g., sadness, despair)
  • People experiencing suicidal ideation are seven times as likely to attempt suicide when drinking heavily.

Who is most at risk of suicidal ideation when drinking alcohol?

  • People most at risk have
    • experienced early life adversity and trauma, such as childhood maltreatment or exposure to a parent’s or family member’s death by suicide
    • had a previous history of suicide and suicidal ideation
    • had a previous history of mental health and substance use disorders
    • had recent exposure to stressful life events, such as a breakup, divorce, family conflict, job loss, or long-term unemployment

How can I reduce the risk for myself?

  • Reflect on the risk factors associated with alcohol use and suicide and consider how they may affect you.
  • Be aware of your own limits and monitor your alcohol intake.
  • Consider your social network and their drinking habits.
  • If you decide to drink, make a plan for safe drinking. Lean on a trusted friend or family member, letting them know of the plan and encouraging them to check in with you.
  • Consider your emotional state before you drink alcohol. If you recently experienced a stressful life event, consider postponing alcohol consumption or closely monitoring your intake.
  • Find alternatives to drinking alcohol. Think about your reasons for drinking. If you’re looking to spend quality time with a friend or family member, meeting for a coffee or tea or going for a walk could be ways to achieve the same goal. If you’d like to de-stress, consider going for a run or a long walk. When drinking alcohol, reflect on how you’re feeling and the thoughts you are having.

 How can I reduce the risk in my community?

  • Improve awareness and access to treatment for mental health and alcohol use disorders.
  • Encourage conversations about alcohol use between health-care professionals and patients.
  • Increase public awareness campaigns about the impacts of alcohol consumption on suicidal thoughts, behaviours, and deaths.
  • Implement gatekeeper training to increase awareness about the negative impacts of alcohol on suicide and reduce the risk of suicide in the community.
  • Monitor the consumption of alcohol in the community, especially in light of the increases in drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Place limits and restrictions on alcohol marketing techniques, particularly those directed toward youth
  • Maintain or increase the price of alcohol to limit access.
  • Enforce the minimum legal drinking age.

Alcohol Use and Suicide

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