Kaplan on Pandemic Stress, Increased Firearm and Alcohol Sales, and Suicide Risk

“The convergence of stress from the pandemic with increased firearm and alcohol sales creates a hazardous situation for those at risk of suicide,” cautioned Professor of Social Welfare Mark S. Kaplan, co-author of a correspondence in the latest volume of The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Kaplan and a team of researchers from around the United States responded to recent research suggesting an increase in alcohol-related suicides due to the economic decline related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Noting previous co-authored research, Kaplan and his colleagues wrote that “alcohol ingestion itself (and especially acute alcohol intoxication) might be a key risk factor for suicide during and shortly after economic contractions.” The unemployment rate during the current pandemic could exceed that of the Great Depression of the 1930s, especially among socially disadvantaged groups, they point out in the journal published by the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies. “Particularly relevant to the economic contraction related to COVID-19, we found that suicide rates were most closely associated with rising poverty. These findings suggest that more than individual-level economic factors are at play in influencing suicide risk; place-level economic shocks also matter,” they noted. Kaplan and his team cite the increase of alcohol sales during a time of physical distancing when people may be becoming intoxicated in isolation. They also noted that the current situation could provide opportunities for suicide prevention. Experts in the field suggest increasing alcohol taxes, limiting times for alcohol sales, reducing the density of alcohol outlets and increasing access to treatment for people with substance use disorders.

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