Recent alcohol intake and suicidality — a neuropsychological perspective

  • H. O’Connell
  • B. A. Lawlor
Original Paper



Alcohol use disorders and suicidal behaviours are among the most prevalent and damaging of all psychiatric phenomena in Ireland and worldwide. Furthermore, alcohol use both chronic and acute has long been identified as a potent risk factor for suicidal behaviour.


In this paper, the authors review the observational and experimental evidence for the acute neuropsychological effects of alcohol intake on suicidal ideation and behaviour.


A selective review of the literature was conducted, using the PubMed database. Search terms employed included ‘alcohol’, ‘suicide’, ‘binge’ and ‘acute alcohol intake’.


Cognitive mechanisms implicated include alcohol-induced deficits in attention-allocation, prospective cognition, autobiographical memory and disinhibition. Emotional mechanisms include alcohol-induced dysphoria, depression and aggression.


This paper serves to highlight the importance of identifying and tackling acute alcohol intake and binge drinking as a risk factor for suicidal behaviour.


Suicidal Ideation Suicidal Behaviour Binge Drinking Autobiographical Memory Vascular Cognitive Impairment 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. 1.
    World Health Organization. accessed 08/01/2005.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    O’Connell H, Chin AV, Lawlor BA. Alcohol use in Ireland-can we hold our drink? Ir J Psychol Med 2003;20(4): 109–110.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Kessler RC, McGonagle KA, Zhao S et al. Lifetime and 12-month prevalence of DSM-III-R psychiatric disorders in the United States. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1994;51: 8–19.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    O’Connell H, Clare AW. Nearly lethal suicide attempt-implications for research and prevention. Ir J Psych Med 2004;21(4): 131–133.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Murphy GE, Wetzel RD. The lifetime risk of suicide in alcoholism. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1990;47: 383–392.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Roy A, Linnoila M. Alcoholism and suicide. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 1986;16: 244–273.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Borges G, Rovovsky H. Suicide attempts and alcohol consumption in an emergency room sample. J Stud Alcohol. 1996; 57: 543–548.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Young MA, Fogg LF, Scheftner WA, Fawcett JA. Interactions of risk factors in predicting suicide. Am J Psychiatry 1994;151: 434–435.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Berglund M, Ojehagen A. The influence of alcohol drinking and alcohol use disorders on psychiatric disorders and suicidal behaviour. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1998;22(7 Suppl): 333S-345S.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Gorwood P. Biological markers for suicidal behaviour in alcohol dependence. Eur Psychiatry. 2001;16(7): 410–417CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Foster T. Dying for a drink. BMJ 2001;323: 817–818.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Inskip HM, Harris EC, Barraclough B. Lifetime risk of suicide for affective disorder, alcoholism and schizophrenia. Br J Psychiatry 1998;172: 35–37.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Wasserman D, Varnik A, Eklund G. Female suicides and alcohol consumption during perestroika in the former USSR. Acta Psychiatr Scand Suppl. 1998;394: 26–33.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    James A, Lai FH, Dahl C. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and suicide: a review of possible associations. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2004;110(6): 408–15.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Rao R. Suicide in patients with stroke. BMJ 1998;317: 1016.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Gunnell D, Magnusson PKE, Rasmussen F. Low intelligence test scores in 18 year old men and risk of suicide: cohort study. BMJ 2005;330: 167.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    James IP, Scott-Orr DN, Curnow DH. Blood alcohol levels following attempted suicide. Q J Stud Alcohol 1963;24: 14–22.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Mayfield DG, Montgomery D. Alcoholism, alcohol intoxication, and suicide attempts. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1972;27(3): 349–353.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Merrill J, Milner G, Owens J, Vale A. Alcohol and attempted suicide. Br J Addict. 1992;87(1): 83–89.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Suokas J, Lonnqvist JK. Suicide attempts in which alcohol is involved: a special group in general hospital emergency rooms. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 1995;91(1): 36–40.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Brent DA, Perper JA, Aliman CJ. Alcohol, firearms and suicide among youth. JAMA. 1987;257(24): 3369–72.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Hayward L, Zubrick SR, Silburn S. Blood alcohol levels in suicide cases. J Epidemiol Community Health. 1992;46(3): 256–260.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Hlady WG, Middaugh JP. Suicides in Alaska:firearms and alcohol. Am J Public Health. 1988;78(2): 179–180.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Welte JW, Abel EL, Wieczorek W. The role of alcohol in suicides in Erie County, NY, 1972–84. Public Health Rep. 1988;103(6): 648–652.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Cherpitel CJ, Borges GL, Wilcox HC. Acute alcohol use and suicidal behaviour: a review of the literature. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2004;28(5 Suppl): 18S-28S.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Vinson DC, Borges G, Cherpitel CJ. The risk of intentional injury with acute and chronic alcohol exposures: a case-control and case-crossover study. J Stud Alcohol. 2003;64(3): 350–7PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Powell KE, Kresnow MJ, Mercy JA, et al. Alcohol consumption and nearly lethal suicide attempts. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2001;32(1 Suppl): 30–41.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Hufford MR. Alcohol and suicidal behaviour. Clinical Psychol Rev. 2001;21(5): 797–811.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Steele CM, Josephs RA. Alcohol myopia: its prized and dangerous effects. Am Psychol. 1990;45(8): 921–933.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Van Heeringen C, Marusic A. Understanding the suicidal brain. Br J Psychiatry 2003;183: 282–4.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Marlatt GA, Kosturn CF, Lang AR. Provocation to anger and opportunity for retaliation as determinants of alcohol consumption in social drinkers. J Abnorm Psychol. 1975;84(6): 652–659.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Sayette MA, Wilson GT, Elias MJ. Alcohol and aggression: a social information processing analysis. J Stud Alcohol. 1993;54(4): 399–407.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mercer’s Institute for Research on AgeingSt. James’s HospitalDublin 8

Personalised recommendations