Editor’s Note: The following article was published on the Own Your Limits website. Own Your Limits is the Department of Defense’s educational campaign for responsible drinking. The campaign offers resources to Service members as well as for professionals who support, educate or work with Service members.
April is Alcohol Abuse Prevention Month. Alcohol use comes with risks. Risks to your health, to your relationships and one risk we don’t talk about as often: suicide.
No one situation or event leads to suicide. The factors of suicide are complex, and may involve things like family history, mental health, relationship challenges and prolonged stress. If you’re a Service member, other risks may include a lack of advancement or career setback, feeling like honor was lost, an injury or health issue or a recent return from a deployment. Deployments, TDYs/TADs and PCS may cause stress due to loss of connection with family or friends, time away from home or changes to your ’day-to-day’.
While alcohol does not cause suicide, it can play a role. Some say it is the second largest risk factor for suicide and suicide attempts, right after depression. People who are thinking about suicide often turn to alcohol.
Rather than helping, alcohol can increase thoughts of suicide. Here’s how:
• When you drink, you make snap decisions without much thought. This is because alcohol slows down the part of your brain that controls your thoughts, movement, speech, memory and messages between your brain and body. You are less able to solve problems and may have trouble seeing a positive future for yourself. This leads to more dark thoughts.
• To try and forget your problems, you may drink a lot and unknowingly distance or cut yourself off from your unit, friends or family. These are the people who can be most supportive during hard times.
Think about it. You may be in a situation where you are going through a tough time. Perhaps you aren’t sure how to make things better and you start drinking more. The alcohol can cloud your thinking and pretty soon, you may see suicide as the easiest or only way out.
But there is help… and hope. Seeking help when you need it is a sign of strength and there are many ways to get help.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, you can speak with someone confidentially and anonymously. Call the Military Crisis Line, 800-273-8255 (press 1), or text a message to 838255. You can also start a confidential online chat session.