When we think of someone “drinking themselves to death,” we usually imagine a sad, lonely looking man at the end of a bar or dimly lit room. He’s drinking out of a small glass, alone, and every drink ages him just a little more. While this may be a reality for some, for many more death by alcohol is far from the cliché we imagine it to be in our minds. Instead, the reality of death by alcohol is a much darker one. Alcoholics are 120 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, and alcohol is involved in at least 25% of all suicides in the United States. This means that in at least 10,000 suicides every year alcohol is a contributing factor. 80% of these are men. To many, these numbers are surprising. But really, they shouldn’t be. Alcohol is a depressant, and one third of people with depression also struggle with alcohol abuse. The link between depression, suicide, and alcoholism is apparent, but the answers to this problem aren’t always as clear.
Depression isn’t like the physical signs of alcohol abuse. It’s often not something we can easily detect, like slurred speech or lowered inhibitions. Instead, it’s hidden below the surface, and people don’t like talking about it. It’s a dark topic, and one that many of us don’t even like to acknowledge exists. Talking about depression is hard, and it’s even harder when it’s someone you love suffering with it. However, it’s still easier to talk about depression than it is to suffer through it. If you’re struggling to connect with a loved one about their depression and alcoholism, these tips might help you and your loved one before it’s too late.
Depression and alcoholism are both extremely complex issues that, while connected, are completely different from each other in a variety of meaningful ways. It may feel overwhelming, but the first step to truly helping someone you care about is becoming educated about what they’re dealing with. Luckily, there is an endless supply of resources available online that can help you learn about both issues in their entirety. While no one’s expecting you to become an expert overnight, understanding depression and alcoholism can make a huge difference. For many, both issues are outside of their control. They’ll feel sad, hopeless, and misunderstood. By educating yourself in depression and alcoholism, you’re taking the first step to truly being there in a meaningful way for your loved one.
It’s difficult to actually initiate a discussion about alcoholism or depression. You’re talking to an individual about something intrinsically personal. For this reason, it’s best to not make it a confrontation. Instead of pulling an intervention-style sit down with someone you’re concerned for, just be open. Talk to your loved one in an open and clear way. Don’t shout at them or get too emotional; instead, simply say things like “I’ve noticed some changes, and I want to make sure everything’s alright,” or “You seem a little off lately, is everything alright?” Avoid saying things like “why are you so sad?” or “what’s wrong with you?” All language like this will do is further crystallize their beliefs that they can’t be helped, and that something is “wrong” with them, when depression and alcoholism aren’t that simple or easy to categorize. Just focus on being open, and more importantly, honest.
It’s okay to be honest with your loved one. Depression and alcoholism are incredibly complicated, and unless you’ve experienced them first hand, it’s okay to not understand them completely. It’s okay to tell your loved one that while you might not understand exactly what they’re going through, that you’re there for them. People struggling with depression and alcoholism will often be disillusioned, and hearing the same cliches over and over again will only make them feel worse. Instead, just be honest, and be yourself. Your authenticity will be a breath of fresh air for an individual who has only felt apathy or awkwardness from others in regards to their alcoholism and depression.
Suicide is a real risk when dealing with alcoholism and depression. Often, when combined, alcohol and depression form an inescapable cycle that ends in suicide. For this reason, it’s incredibly important to stay vigilant, and know the signs that someone’s depression might be reaching a breaking point. If your loved one is engaging in self-destructive behavior or seeking out dangerous objects they could hurt themselves with, it’s important to voice your concerns as soon as possible. Other signs aren’t as clear, however, and require a little more attentiveness. Individuals who are considering suicide often make efforts to get their affairs in order, say their goodbyes, and have an inexplicable calm demeanor. These signs are a little more subtle, but are some of the most definitive indicators of suicidal ideation.
You can’t manage their recovery for them. It may be tough to watch your loved one struggle, but you can’t force them to get better. Instead, the most you can do is make it clear that you’re there to help them. Having a support system is key in overcoming both depression and alcoholism. Alcoholism and depression rob an individual of all their energy and motivation, meaning it’s essential to have a strong, encouraging support system that can motivate them to heal and recover. You can’t control their recovery, but you can support them in it. Encourage them to see a doctor or therapist, and be there for them when they need you. Something as simple as a judgment-free ride to the doctor’s office can mean everything to someone struggling with depression and alcoholism.
It may sounds like an old cliché, but someone drinking themselves to death is a very real and very serious thing that many deal with every single day. Our culture tends to dismiss depression and alcoholism, especially amongst men. Depression is often pigeon-holed as a phase, and binge drinking just “boys being boys.” But there’s more to it than that. In fact, the combination of alcoholism and depression is one of the most common and deadliest issues men face today. The longer we dismiss and ignore these issues, the more men who could have been saved may die. If your loved one is struggling with alcohol and depression, speak up. A simple talk could save a life.
Helpful resources for those struggling with depression and suicidal ideation:
Photo by Henry Söderlund