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With the recent, untimely deaths of the designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain, people are again discussing suicide, and how to prevent it.
Some people have asked us about alcohol use and how it may affect the desire to take one’s life. The fact is that there is a well-known association between the two. They are often intertwined, with tragic consequences.
The sad truth is that many family and friends often cannot see suicide coming. They may be completely unaware of the person’s inner pain, and when the act occurs, it can take loved ones by surprise. There may not be any signals of suffering. As our chief medical officer, John E. Mendelson, MD writes, “Although most suicides occur in people with depression, thoughts about coming suicide are often transient, and suicide attempts are usually unplanned and impulsive.”
For someone who is depressed to start with, alcohol doesn’t help. And those who are already dependent on alcohol are even more likely to make decisions that they—and their loved ones—will regret. Mendelson comments, “People with alcoholism are at a higher risk of attempting or completing a suicide, which is not surprising because many people with alcoholism are also depressed. But many people are unaware that drinking and intoxication alone can dramatically increase the risk of suicide.”
While it’s not known whether Spade had any alcohol issues, Bourdain definitely did, and he described his addictive behavior himself. As Stanton Peele, Ph.D. wrote in a 2014 article for Psychology Today, “Bourdain’s breakthrough memoir, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, which put him on the literary map, describes the long journey that brought him to this position, one marked by extreme excursions into drugs strung out over years. After kicking heroin in rehab, for instance, he still worked long hours in New York kitchens interspersed with cocaine and alcohol binges.”
It is unclear whether Bourdain had suffered any type of relapse, but substance abuse, depression, and suicide make a gnarled and complex trio. “No one is sure of the exact mechanism,” Mendelson adds, “but it is well known that alcohol makes people more impulsive and decreases their ability to weigh risks, resulting in an increase in the likelihood that a suicidal impulse will become a suicide attempt.”
How to get help: In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.