Suicide – alcohol abuse must be tackled

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By Deborah Condon

The high suicide level among young Irish men could be reduced if more was done to tackle the issue of alcohol abuse, Alcohol Action Ireland has said.

The national charity, which deals with alcohol-related issues, made its comments in response to the publication of the Report on the All-Ireland Young Men and Suicide Project this week.

The report found that while the rate of male suicide in Ireland overall is relatively low in relation to the European Union (EU),  ‘the rate among young males is among the highest in the EU’.

It also noted that  ‘alcohol and substance misuse tend to be higher in young men and are associated with increased suicide risk’. Furthermore, impulsive behaviour associated with drinking was also seen as one of the main risk factors for suicide among young males.

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that the risk of suicide when a person is currently abusing alcohol is eight times greater than if they were not abusing alcohol.

“However, a person doesn’t have to be a heavy drinker or even a regular drinker to be at risk – just one occasion of heavy drinking can reduce inhibitions enough to self-harm or act on suicidal thoughts,” explained Conor Cullen of Alcohol Action Ireland.

The charity is calling for the full implementation of the Steering Group Report on the National Substance Misuse Strategy, which is almost a year old.

“It contains a clear blueprint to tackle our harmful relationship with alcohol. Its recommendations, especially those on the pricing, marketing and availability of alcohol, would be of particular benefit to young men in Ireland, among whom more than one in three deaths is now as a result of suicide,” Mr Cullen explained.

He said that minimum pricing of alcohol is a particularly important recommendation as it would  ‘help bring an end to the current situation where cheap booze is available at pocket money prices’.

“The WHO, among others, has clearly stated that as the price of alcohol goes up, consumption goes down,” Mr Cullen noted.

The marketing of alcohol is another key area that must be tackled because it  ‘largely promotes positive, risk-free images of alcohol’ and people are exposed to these messages constantly via sponsorship, branded merchandise, product placement and other types of promotion.

“Marketing can shape youth culture by creating and sustaining expectations and norms about how to achieve social, sporting or sexual success, how to celebrate, how to relax and how to belong. Extensive scientific research has established that alcohol marketing influences young people to start drinking and if already drinking, to drink more,” Mr Cullen explained.

However he pointed out that what the marketing does not show is the detrimental effect alcohol can have on our lives. For example, it can increase the risk of mental health problems or worsen pre-existing ones.

“It can also reduce inhibitions enough for an individual to act on suicidal thoughts, which they might never have done if not under the influence of alcohol,” he added.