The ‘Abstainer Question’: relationships between alcohol use and suicidal ideation in Australian online help-seekers

Rainbow, Christopher ORCID: 0000-0001-7279-1671, Baldwin, Peter ORCID: 0000-0002-3319-6252, Hosking, Warwick ORCID: 0000-0003-4707-5483, Blashki, Grant and Batterham, Philip (2023) The ‘Abstainer Question’: relationships between alcohol use and suicidal ideation in Australian online help-seekers. Journal of Affective Disorders Reports, 14. ISSN 2666-9153


Background: When compared to social drinkers, high levels of suicidal ideation have been observed in both heavy alcohol consumers and abstainers. Heavy alcohol use or abstention may indicate different risk pathways to the development of suicidal ideation (SI). Methods: Visitors to a mental health website (N = 1,561) completed a survey, and latent profile analysis (LPA) was used to explore differences in risk factor patterns. Risk factors explored included psychological distress, help-seeking intent, financial wellbeing, thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness. Results: Most participants (75.1%) reported SI in the past four weeks. A three-class LPA model emerged as the optimal fit: (1) low SI/lower alcohol; (2) high SI/lower alcohol; (3) high SI/high alcohol. Members of the high SI/lower alcohol profile displayed significantly higher psychological distress, thwarted belongingness, and perceived burdensomeness; lower financial wellbeing and help-seeking intentions than both other profiles. Members of the high SI/high alcohol profile were more likely to be male and already receiving help for their psychological distress. Members of the high SI/lower alcohol profile were more likely to be younger and report lower help-seeking intent. Limitations: Our study design was cross-sectional, utilising a largely young, female, English-speaking, help-seeking sample that had chosen to visit a mental health website. Conclusions: While the links between heavy alcohol use and suicide risk are well documented, these findings suggest that practitioners should also be alert for abstention patterns, as they may be indicators of underlying psychosocial concerns that a client could be reluctant to disclose.

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Item type Article
DOI 10.1016/j.jadr.2023.100659
Official URL
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 5205 Social and personality psychology
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Health and Sport
Keywords alcohol consumption, suicidal ideation, alcohol misuse, suicide risk, Australia, help-seeking
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