Friday, December 1, 2023

Study Highlights Relationship Between Alcohol, Suicide, and Firearms

Alcohol intoxication is associated with an increased risk of suicide death by firearms compared with other methods, especially among males and among young and middle-aged females, a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests.

“Understanding the nuances of the relationship between alcohol and firearm-involved suicides—the method of suicide that makes up the greatest proportion of suicides in the U.S.—allows for a better understanding of how a prevention initiative targeting alcohol (e.g., alcohol taxation), for example, would impact suicide in the U.S.,” wrote Shannon Lange, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, in Toronto and colleagues.

The researchers examined data from the National Violent Death Reporting System for 34,972 females and 113,851 males who died by suicide from 2003 to 2020. The researchers divided the individuals according to age at time of death: young, aged 18 to 34 years; middle-aged, aged 36 to 64 years; and older, aged 65 years or older. The individuals’ blood alcohol content at the time of death was determined via toxicology testing. The researchers defined alcohol intoxication as having a blood alcohol content of at least 0.08 g/dL, which corresponds to approximately four drinks for females and five drinks for males within two hours.

Overall, males were more likely to be intoxicated at the time of death than females, and people in the young and middle-aged groups were more likely to be intoxicated at the time of death than those in the older group. Males were more likely to use a firearm than females, and older males had the highest proportion of death by suicide using a firearm.

Young and middle-aged females who were intoxicated at the time of death had a 31% and 34% greater risk of using a firearm compared with their non-intoxicated peers, respectively. Young, middle-aged, and older intoxicated males had a 28%, 17%, and 4% increased risk of using a firearm compared with their non-intoxicated peers, respectively.

“In light of the current findings, there is a clear need for prevention efforts to address the alcohol-firearm-suicide relationship,” Langue and colleagues wrote. They added that such efforts could include the following:

  • Laws that prohibit firearm possession for individuals with alcohol use disorder or who are being treated for alcohol-related reasons.
  • Screening and brief interventions for alcohol use of all individuals who present in the health care system with suicidal thoughts or for a suicide attempt and connecting these individuals with resources for treatment for substance use.
  • The enactment of safe firearm storage policies and mandatory waiting periods following a firearm purchase.
  • Minimum unit pricing on alcohol.

“Given that a firearm is the most lethal means of suicide, alcohol control policies targeting excessive alcohol consumption may stem the tide of firearm suicides in the U.S.,” the authors wrote.

For related information, see the Psychiatric Services article “Preventing Suicide Through Better Firearm Safety Policy in the United States.”

(Image: Getty Images/iStock/Josiah S)

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