4 in 10 suicide cases involve use of alcohol and other drugs, study finds


Four out of ten people who commit suicide use psychoactive substances, especially alcohol, before taking their own life, shows an unprecedented study by UnB (University of Brasília) that investigated behavioral and sociodemographic data of victims in order to help in the formulation of policies prevention public.

The study analyzed 1,088 suicides that occurred in the Federal District, in a period of nine years. Of these cases, 780 underwent toxicological tests and 44% had positive results for psychoactive substances, 72% for the exclusive use of alcohol and 22% for other associated drugs, especially cocaine, in addition to alcohol.

The study shows that between 2005 and 2014 the increase in the suicide rate related to the use of psychoactive substances was ten times greater than the population growth of the Federal District. In the survey, only these cases underwent a more detailed analysis of the profile of the victims.

The results, published in a scientific article in the journal BMC Psychiatric, reflect the worrying situation of the mental health of Brazilians. The total number of deaths in the country from so-called self-harm has doubled from about 7,000 to 14,000 in the last 20 years, according to Datasus.

Most of the suicides analyzed in the study were committed by men (84%), which also occurs in the rest of the country. Data from the Ministry of Health show an average annual rate of 6.13 cases of suicide per 100,000 people (9.8 for men and 2.5 for women).

Blacks and browns accounted for 82% of the cases analyzed. This population is the most socially vulnerable group in the country and, according to the researchers, this can be a risk factor for suicide.

The proportion, however, is not the same observed in the national scenario. Of the 14,084 suicides recorded in the country in 2021, 50% were black and brown and 47% were white. Indigenous people account for 1% and those of unknown color for 2%.

Most of the investigated cases occurred at home (74%) and in the age groups between 30 and 59 years old (55%), followed by young people between 18 and 29 years old (35%).

For Professor Andrea Gallassi, author of the study and coordinator of the Reference Center on Drugs and Associated Vulnerabilities at the University of Brasília (UnB), studies like this are essential to identify patterns associated with suicides and, based on them, invest in prevention policies. targeted at individuals at higher risk.

“We have a cultural problem with men. This patriarchal, sexist society makes it very difficult for men to deal with their feelings and weaknesses and to seek help,” she says.

According to the professor, health communication campaigns need to take these data into account to help men recognize illness. “Every year there is Blue November focused on prostate cancer. We need to move forward, talk about men’s mental health. We have to say that men suffer, have depression and difficulty dealing with feelings.”

In her opinion, this situation is even related to many cases of femicide followed by man’s suicide. “He was brought up in a macho culture where the woman belongs to the man and he has a huge difficulty in dealing with the loss of someone who, in his mind, belongs to him.”

According to family reports collected in the study, after alcohol and drug use, crime linked to relationships is cited as the second highest motivation for suicide. Third are previous mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

According to the study, the blood alcohol concentration of people who died by suicide was between 1.5 and 2.99 grams per litre, an amount that can cause disorientation and mental confusion, for example.

The acute effect of alcohol on neurotransmitters and cognitive functions can also increase aggression, impulsivity, and disinhibition.

“The person uses it to encourage himself to take his own life. But we don’t know if he was dependent on alcohol or other drugs or if he used it to have courage”, says Gallassi.

In interviews with family members about the behavior of those who committed suicide, it was reported that 88% showed a change in behavior before committing the act: 52% became more depressive and 32%, more aggressive.

Another fact that draws attention is that most people who had a previous history of suicide attempts did not use alcohol and other drugs before taking their own lives. “The hypothesis is that they already had a more consolidated plan and did not need an encouraging element.”

According to Gallassi, there is a high chance that a person who has previously tried to kill himself will repeat the attempt. “That’s why it’s critical to monitor her closely to see if she’s going to stick with suicidal ideation.”

Regarding prevention policies, the researcher says that one of the main strategies would be the training of family health teams in the SUS primary care for mental health issues, especially risk factors related to suicides.

“You have to question families about cases of mental disorders, depression, previous suicide attempts, dependence on alcohol and other drugs and, once identified, refer the person to Caps [centros de apoio psicossocial]. Often this is not even questioned.”

The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends four guidelines for suicide prevention: making it difficult to access the main methods used, qualifying the work of the media so that it neutralizes reports and emphasizes stories of overcoming, expanding and strengthening mental health services, training professionals to identify early cases and work on socio-emotional skills in teaching spaces.


Mental Health Map

Site maps different types of service: www.mapasaudemental.com.br

CVV (Life Appreciation Center)

Volunteers answer toll-free calls 24 hours a day at number 188: www.cvv.org.br.


  • Showing a lack of hope or too much concern about their own death

  • Expressing suicidal thoughts or intentions

  • Isolating yourself from your social activities and cutting off contact with others

  • In addition: losing a job, suffering discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity, suffering psychological or physical aggression, decreasing self-care practices.

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