A first-of-its kind study by the state health department confirmed a strong link between suicide and alcohol in Colorado, a finding that could lead to new prevention efforts.
Kacy Crawford, an alcohol epidemiologist at the Colorado Department of Health and Environment’s mental health division, studied the toxicology reports for people who died by suicide from 2011 through 2015. About one in three people had enough alcohol in their system at the time of death to have been binge drinking, meaning above the legal limit for driving at 0.08 percent.
“Clearly, there is a link between excessive alcohol use and suicide in Colorado,” Crawford said.
The study found about half of people who died by suicide in the five-year period and were intoxicated had previous problems with alcohol, were depressed, or were having problems with a close relationship. More than half of those who had been binge drinking before they died used guns to end their lives.
MORE: Read the CDPHE study
“This report is really trying to see, if we reduce excessive drinking, could we reduce alcohol-involved suicide deaths?” Crawford said. “These results give us an indication that may be true.”
Men and working-age adults, much more so than teenagers, were more likely to have been drunk when they took their own lives. The report did not look at other substances, including marijuana or LSD.
Substance-abuse among teens is among the top predictors of suicide attempts among teens, said Jenna Glover, a child psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
When she counsels suicidal teens and their parents, she urges them to restrict access to alcohol and drugs, which lower a person’s inhibitions and can lead to impulsive decisions. Parents, she said, are often thinking about removing guns or knives from their homes, but Glover tells them to remove the alcohol as well.
“When they’re intoxicated, they tend to be more impulsive and not thinking about long-term consequences,” Glover said, noting that teens — as well as adults — use alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. “Substance abuse is not necessarily the problem but a symptom of the underlying problems.”
Colorado Crisis Line: A statewide hotline. 1-844-493-8255, or text TALK to 38255.
In 2017, 23 Colorado children age 10 through 14 died by suicide, in addition to 169 young people age 15 to 24, according to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data.
Of the 19 youth suicides in Arapahoe County in 2017, toxicology tests were run on 11, according to the Arapahoe County coroner. The findings showed five tested positive for drugs or alcohol, and three of them were ruled overdose deaths.
Boulder County had 10 suicides of youths age 21 or younger in 2016, two in 2017 and four so far this year, according to the coroner’s office. Of the total 16 suicides, toxicology tests found drugs, alcohol or marijuana in 10 of the victims.
Larimer County had four suicides of youth younger than 18 in 2016, two in 2017 and none this year. Douglas County had two suicides of youth age 19 and younger in 2016, then six in 2017 and six so far this year. Toxicology reports were not available.
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