Excessive drinking increases your suicide risk


It’s a fact that excessive drinking is linked to suicidal thoughts and behaviour. It’s a fact that it is associated with a bit less than a quarter of all deaths by suicide in New Zealand.

It’s also a fact that our suicide prevention strategies in New Zealand overlook these truths.

A new study by Dr Rose Crossin at the University of Otago, Christchurch, examined data from the longitudinal study of 1265 children born in 1977.

It backed up international research showing people who abuse alcohol are 50 per cent more likely to think about suicide.

Excessive drinking and suicide were “fundamentally interlinked,” Crossin said.

“Policies which reduce harmful drinking are suicide prevention policies.”

In her study, before controlling for other suicide risk factors – such as trauma, mental health issues and substance abuse – alcohol abuse almost tripled the risk of suicidal thoughts.

“The reason that alcohol use disorder impacts on suicide is quite complex,” Crossin said. “One aspect is that alcohol is a depressant so, if you drink alcohol over a long time, it’s associated with depression, which is associated with suicide.”

Given all these facts, you’d think our national suicide prevention strategy would have focus on alcohol as a major concern.

It doesn’t though.

It’s a division exemplified by the two being given to completely different ministries to tackle. Alcohol regulatory and licensing are handled by the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Health is in charge of suicide prevention.

Crossin said the findings of the study shouldn’t be taken lightly for New Zealand, a country with high rates of both dangerous drinking and suicide risk.

In 2020, 21 percent of adults met hazardous drinking criteria, while 607 New Zealanders took their own lives in the year to June 2021.

“Our suicide prevention strategy has some really good stuff, but this is a big part that’s missing,” she said. “We recommend including alcohol-related interventions in it.”

Dr Nicki Jackson, executive director of Alcohol Healthwatch, strongly supports Crossin’s view.

“When you’re talking about one of the biggest contributors to suicide in our country, we need specific actions,” she said. “It’s like trying to reduce the road toll without reducing alcohol.”

She notes there are already interventions which numerous government-commissioned enquiries have been calling for since 2009.

“The Law Commission’s recommendations weren’t taken up in 2010, followed by the Mental Health and Addiction Enquiry. If you got to their 40 recommendations around improving mental health and reducing addiction, it’s the alcohol recommendations that weren’t given priority. They stood out like a sore thumb.”

The easy availability of alcohol with home deliveries, its affordability and strong marketing campaigns are issues that need addressing, Jackson said.

Her recommendations as to how to fix this problem echo those Crossin came to in her study.

These include:

Screening for alcoholism must a consistent part of mental health treatment, and vice versa.

Adopting the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 campaign approach, where actions on price, availability and marketing are the focus.

Pushing the drinking age back up to 20.

Where to get help

1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor

Kidsline 0800 54 37 54 for people up to 18 years old. Open 24/7

Lifeline 0800 543 354

Rural Support Trust 0800 787 254

Samaritans 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Youthline 0800 376 633, free text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz, or find online chat and other support options here

Anxiety New Zealand 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)

If it is an emergency, click here to find the number for your local crisis assessment team

In a life-threatening situation, call 111

Additional reading

News category: New Zealand.

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