As we have tried to understand the tragic loss of our son Nathan to suicide, we have learned much about mental health issues. We have also had to consider the role of alcohol in his life and death. Because alcohol is so popular today, especially among young people, we wanted to share some of what we have learned with anyone who is willing to listen.
We have concluded that Nathan had a long-standing struggle with some form of disorder in his mind, and we see a connection with the use of alcohol. Apparently, he had used alcohol since high school, which is the time he started to have other problems. From what we have read, those who struggle with unwanted thoughts such as depression often turn to alcohol and drugs for an escape from what they are facing. The difficulty is that alcohol and drugs do not solve the problem. To make matters worse, they alter the delicate brain chemistry that is already not balanced properly. Alcohol is classified as a depressant, so although it offers a temporary escape, it actually worsens the symptoms. It can also usher other problems into the person’s life which only complicate matters and create more stress.
This is exactly what Nathan experienced. He had been drinking with his Navy friends during his training. When he was sent to Guam, he had access to alcohol and used it even though he was under the legal drinking age. The military police found him sleeping outside of his barracks. He tested positive for alcohol and was taken to their office. Later he left the base and went to a local hotel. Apparently, he believed that he faced some serious consequences which put him under extreme stress. This, along with his existing struggles, brought him to the point of making the decision to end his own life. We cannot say that alcohol caused his death, but it does appear that it worsened his situation and put him in a crisis state that led to his death.
As parents, we taught our children that using alcohol is not wise. While we realize that many people use alcohol in moderation without significant problems, we also now see firsthand that it can cause tremendous problems and result in irreversible tragedies.
If you are a young person who uses alcohol, we hope that you will stop and think about a few things. Are you using alcohol to try to deal with a deeper struggle related to painful thoughts? You may say, “I just want to fit in and be accepted by others.” Then maybe you should ask yourself, “Why do I feel the need to do things to be accepted; is there something I am not facing in my own life and thoughts?” The brain is a complex organ. The college-age years put young people under many stresses and the body is going through many changes. It is possible that in handling stresses and emotions, your brain has developed conditions that are not as healthy as they could be. These are things that can be addressed by talking to someone who is trained in these matters. There are things you can learn about in order to cope with your struggles and work through them successfully. In the end, using alcohol or other drugs is not a positive way to deal with them and will only worsen your situation.
I cannot share these thoughts with Nathan; I can only visit his grave. But I can plead with you to consider these ideas and choose a different course.