Alcohol and suicidal behavior

Clin Psychol Rev. 2001 Jul;21(5):797-811. doi: 10.1016/s0272-7358(00)00070-2.


Alcohol dependence and alcohol intoxication are important risk factors for suicidal behavior. However, the mechanism for the relationship remains unclear. This review presents a conceptual framework relating alcohol to suicidal behavior. Distal risk factors create a statistical potential for suicide. Alcohol dependence, as well as associated comorbid psychopathology and negative life events, act as distal risk factors for suicidal behavior. Proximal risk factors determine the timing of suicidal behavior by translating the statistical potential of distal risk factors into action. The acute effects of alcohol intoxication act as important proximal risk factors for suicidal behavior among the alcoholic and nonalcoholic alike. Mechanisms responsible for alcohol's ability to increase the proximal risk for suicidal behavior include alcohol's ability to: (1) increase psychological distress, (2) increase aggressiveness, (3) propel suicidal ideation into action through suicide-specific alcohol expectancies, and (4) constrict cognition which impairs the generation and implementation of alternative coping strategies. Moreover, the proximal risk factors associated with acute intoxication are consistent with Baumeister's (1990) escape theory of suicide. Suggestions for additional research are discussed, including the possibility that a nonlinear cusp catastrophe model characterizes the relationship between alcohol intoxication and suicidal behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Aggression
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / psychology*
  • Alcoholism / complications
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Suicide, Attempted