People are over four times more likely to attempt suicide or self-harm if they have recently been drinking alcohol, figures collected at Warrnambool Base Hospital's emergency department show.
The Last Drinks data gathered over the past 18 months revealed alcohol products also heightened suicidal thoughts or intention to self-harm by almost fourfold.
Acting deputy manager of adult mental health at South West Healthcare Olivia Walker said the research mirrored data collected around Australia.
"Alcohol products affect people's judgement by reducing inhibitions and increasing people's tendency to act impulsively, so they are more likely to do something that may not seem reasonable if they were not drinking," Ms Walker said.
"Being a depressant, alcohol also increases negative thoughts, feelings of hopelessness and other depressive symptoms."
Ms Walker said alcohol tended to be the self-medication of choice among people who are experiencing mental health issues but have not yet sought help.
"Alcohol is so freely available and no one questions you if you go and buy it," she said.
"Unfortunately, mental health issues remain a taboo subject, so it can seem a lot easier to try to dull the hurt with alcohol products rather than opening up to someone."
Alcohol has been found to increase depression by disrupting the brain's normal chemical processes.
By slowing the brain down, alcohol can affect a person's judgement and sense or reality, making it more difficult for them to see solutions to a problem or seek help.
As part of the Last Drinks study, Deakin University researchers and hospital staff asked every person aged over 18 years presenting at Warrnambool Base Hospital's emergency department about their alcohol consumption in the previous 12 hours.
The research unveiled a raft of data around the links between alcohol products and injury and has backed up the strong associations between alcohol and suicide or self-harm.
The Warrnambool figures showed emergency visits related to self-harm or suicide were equally common over all across men and women and all age groups from 18 years up.
But when alcohol products were in the mix, men were 3.5 times and women six times more likely to front up to hospital.
The reasons behind this difference were not part of the study, but Ms Walker said it could indicate that women were more likely to seek professional help than men as other studies demonstrate that men - particularly rural men - are less likely than women to seek help for psychological distress.
This suggested that men could be drinking alcohol and self-harming without presenting to emergency services.
"If they are drinking with friends, perhaps women are more likely to encourage their girlfriends to seek help than men are with their mates," she said.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with men four times more likely to die by suicide than women.
Ms Walker said friends and family could look out for warning signs in their loved ones such as lowered mood, declining physical health and problems at work or with relationships.
She said local services including Brophy Family and Youth Services, Western Region Alcohol and Drug Centre (WRAD) and the crisis mental health service at Warrnambool Base Hospital all offered support. People can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Last Drinks Warrnambool is part of the Driving Change trial running in emergency departments across Victoria, NSW and the ACT until 2021.
As part of the project, which builds on a pilot study run in Warrnambool in 2014, hospitals gather information on alcohol-related presentations, including time and location of drinking, injuries and weapons used.
The data is used to create practical ways of reducing harm from alcohol products within the community.
The project adapts the highly successful "Cardiff" model for violence and injury prevention pioneered in the UK by Professor Jon Shepherd.
- Anyone who needs help can phone Lifeline on 131 114 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636
- Anyone wanting help to cut down or quit can call DirectLine confidential alcohol and drug service on 1800 888 236, Turning Point live online counselling at www.counsellingonline.org.au or contact their GP.