26% of suicide deaths in New Zealand involve alcohol use

The authors of a new study are calling for immediate changes to Aotearoa New Zealand’s suicide prevention strategy and the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, due to figures showing more than 26 per cent of all suicide deaths in the country involve acute alcohol use.

The study, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, is billed as the first time coronial data has been used in New Zealand to quantify the link between suicide deaths and acute alcohol use across the population.

Its findings include:

  • New Zealand’s rate of 26 per cent of suicide deaths involving alcohol is higher than the World Health Organization global estimate of 19 per cent being attributable to alcohol
  • The proportion of female suicide deaths involving alcohol is higher than in Australia
  • Population groups that already have disproportionately higher suicide rates, including younger New Zealanders and Māori, have a higher proportion of suicide deaths involving alcohol
  • The proportion of suicide deaths involving alcohol has remained consistent since 2007, despite repeated legislative and educational campaigns aimed at reducing alcohol harm

Lead author Dr Rose Crossin, from the University of Otago, Christchurch, said: “Our findings make for grim reading. It’s abundantly clear we have a major public health problem in Aotearoa New Zealand with alcohol use now established as a significant risk factor for suicide in this country. Action is now urgently needed to acknowledge the problem and remedy the immense harm being caused.”

Co-author Professor Joe Boden, from the University of Otago, Christchurch’s Department of Psychological Medicine, said: “The fact New Zealand’s national Suicide Prevention Strategy fails to specifically target alcohol is a major missed opportunity for suicide prevention efforts. These findings make it clear that specific interventions focussed on reducing alcohol harm are both sorely and urgently needed. This must include taking action to amend the 2012 sale and Supply of Alcohol Act.”

The study was the first to use data from the National Coronial Information System to examine the link between acute alcohol use and suicide deaths in New Zealand. Data were collected for all suicide deaths involving people aged 15 and over between July 2007 and December 2020. Of the 4,658 included deaths identified during that timeframe, 1,238 (26.6 per cent) involved acute alcohol use. Alcohol use was defined as a blood alcohol concentration of greater than 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood (the legal driving limit for adults).

Professor Boden said: “Being acutely affected by alcohol increases a person’s risk of suicide, as alcohol use results in disinhibition, impulsivity, impaired decision making, aggression and increased feelings of despair.”

Suicide is extremely complex and most of the time there is no single event or factor that leads someone to take their own life. It is preventable, and support is available in the UK from organisations such as the Samaritans.


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