Estimating the impact of alcohol policies on youth suicides

J Ment Health Policy Econ. 2003 Mar;6(1):37-46.


Background: Alcohol consumption has been identified as one of the most important risk factors for youth suicide. Previous research has shown a strong, empirical link between alcohol use and suicide. If alcohol use is a contributing factor in determining suicidal behaviors, then policies designed to reduce the alcohol consumption may succeed in reducing youth suicides as well.

Aims of the study: This paper looks at the role of alcohol-related policies in reducing completed suicides by American youths and young adults. This hypothesis comes from two well established relationships: i) the observed correlation between alcohol consumption and incidents of suicide, and ii) the negative relationship between the full price of alcohol and consumption. The alcohol policies examined are excise taxes on beer, measures of alcohol availability, and drunk driving laws.

Methods: Data on completed suicides for each state in the United States are analyzed for the period 1976-1999. Negative binomial regressions are used to estimate a reduced form model of youth suicide. Suicides are analyzed by gender and age groups (ages 10-14, 15-19 and 20-24).

Results: The results indicate that increases in the excise tax on beer are associated with a reduced number of male suicides. This tax, however, has no impact on female suicides. Suicides by males ages 20-24 are positively related to the availability of alcohol, and negatively related to the presence of a 0.08 BAC (blood alcohol concentration) law and a zero tolerance law for drunk driving. Female suicides are not impacted by the availability of alcohol, although the drunk driving laws may impact suicides by teenage females.

Implications for health policies: Policies designed to reduce alcohol consumption may have the unintended benefit of reducing suicides, particularly among young males.

Implications for further research: While this research shows that alcohol policies may be successful in reducing male suicides, such policies have little impact on female suicides. Future research should explore other potential types of policies and programs to reduce female suicides. Also, illegal drug use has been linked to suicides in a similar manner as alcohol consumption. Future research should consider the role of illegal drug consumption and related policies in determining youth suicides.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Health Policy* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Mental Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States / epidemiology