Alcohol Health – Suicide and Self-Harm

drink32It is estimated that up to two thirds of suicides in the UK are linked to excessive drinking. As many as 70% of successful male suicides are alcohol related, according to the Mental Health Foundation.

As well as suicide, alcohol and self-harm are also linked. A survey of self-harm patients at Scottish accident and emergency departments found that nearly two thirds (62%) of males and half (50%) of females had consumed alcohol immediately before or while self-harming.

Dr Ken Checinski is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer in addictive behaviour at St George’s Hospital Medical School, University of London. He says when people drink alcohol their impulsivity is increased. This can be linked to extreme behaviour, including self-harm and suicide.

“Most people that self-harm have taken substances, and that usually involves alcohol,” Checinski explains. “Alcohol often makes people lose their inhibitions. It increases impulsivity, which might lead them to take actions they might not otherwise have taken, including self-harm and suicide.

Drinking more than 30 units per day (the guideline daily amount for men is 2-3 units) for several weeks can occasionally cause ‘psychosis’, a severe mental illness where hallucinations and delusions of persecution develop. Psychotic symptoms can also occur when very heavy drinkers suddenly stop drinking.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms in people who become addicted to alcohol are very dangerous, with 5% of mortality associated with untreated alcohol withdrawal.” says Checinski.