Alcohol plays an important role in pesticide suicide and self-harm, new study shows

*This article discusses suicidal behaviour. If you have questions on self-harm or feel suicidal, use this link to find an international helpline –*

empty alcohol bottles

A new study has found that alcohol consumption contributes to pesticide self-poisoning, but that insufficient research has been conducted on the issue.

The study involved a scoping review of existing academic literature. It was led by the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention at the University of Edinburgh, in collaboration with international partners.

The research team found that alcohol was involved in one third of cases of pesticide self-harm or suicide. Co-ingestion of pesticides and alcohol increased the risk of death.

The study also found that alcohol consumption is an underlying factor in the self-harm of others; known as “alcohol’s harm to others”. It identified cases where family members self-poisoned because of another family member’s drinking. These instances often related to domestic violence or interpersonal conflict.

The research further identified gender differences. Ingestion of pesticides after also drinking alcohol was most commonly reported among men, while limited qualitative research suggested women were influenced by someone else’s alcohol consumption, leading to instances of self-harm.  

However, the review revealed that research on alcohol’s role in pesticide self-harm and suicide is limited. In particular, very little research has been conducted on how alcohol consumption may contribute to self-harm in others.

Dr Lisa Schölin, Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh who led the research, said:

“Alcohol plays an important role in pesticide suicide and self-harm. Our review has shown a clear link between the two, suggesting that interventions focused on alcohol is beneficial from a suicide prevention perspective.

However, our review has also shown that this issue is under-researched. Although research has been conducted in a few countries in South-East Asia, the evidence is limited. Future studies are therefore needed to fully understand the toxicological effects of co-ingestion and how drinking can lead to self-harm in others.”

The full findings from the study are published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

Useful links

The complex relationship between alcohol, self-harm, and suicide: challenges, solutions and hope