Does Drug Addiction Increase Chance of Suicide?
Of all reported suicides, over 50% are associated with dependence upon drugs and alcohol. In teens and young adults, this figure increases to over 70%. The relationship between substance abuse and suicide is complex, but those who suffer are not beyond help.
Why Substance Abuse and Suicide Are Correlated
As separate issues, both substance abuse and suicidal ideations are serious and must be properly addressed with medical professionals. However, these two issues are often intertwined, and researchers have tried to parse out their complex relationship. There are a number of reasons for the co-occurrence of substance abuse and suicidal behaviors, which may include:
- Depression, Anxiety, or other Psychiatric Disorders: Those who suffer from psychiatric disorders are more likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. To ease their stress, cure their insomnia, or deal with manic periods, for example, many individuals turn to harmful substances. The high they get, however, is only temporary, and worsens their psychiatric symptoms after the drug wears off. Sadly, when the symptoms get worse, many addicts see no other way to stop the pain or cravings. This can lead a person towards a suicidal path, to stop the pain and stress.
- Substance Abuse as a Mode of Suicide: Individuals contemplating suicide may consider attempting an overdose as a mode of death. While they may not have a substance abuse problem at first, repeated attempts using drugs or alcohol may result in addiction.
- Substance Abuse as a Cause of Suicidal Tendencies: Drug and alcohol abuse can lead to feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. Substances affect neurotransmitters, which in turn, can impact mood and judgment. The combination of altered judgment and cyclical hopelessness can increase an individual’s risk of suicide.
- Social and Financial Problems as a Cause of Suicide and Substance Abuse: Those who suffer from both depression and substance abuse or addiction often have social and financial issues, which may create an increased likelihood of suicide.
- Personal Characteristics: Individuals who are more impulsive or who take more risks are more likely to experience both substance abuse and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Treatment for the co-occurring conditions of substance abuse and mental illness is becoming more widely available in the United States. While most individuals who suffer from both do not seek treatment, there are ways to help those in need:
- Educate yourself on substance abuse/addiction, including your loved one’s drug of choice
- Educate yourself on your loved one’s mental health condition
- Learn the warning signs of both substance abuse and suicidal behavior
- Call 911 if your loved one’s health is in imminent danger
- Learn about the available resources and treatment options for addiction and mental health issues
- Offer help and assistance when choosing a treatment facility and arranging the details
- Continually check in with your loved one (even if they do not respond well at first)
Your loved one may react negatively to your offer of help, but remember that it may take time to convince them to enter treatment. If they are reluctant to get help with substance abuse and address their mental health issues, try:
- Providing them with information on treatment facilities and what to expect
- Encouraging them to realize the cost of their issues by asking indirect questions (“If you take another day off from work, how will that affect your job?”)
- Designing a professional intervention with friends and family
All of these steps will allow your loved one to receive the help they need while addressing their issues. If substance abuse and suicide is a concern you have for someone in your life, know that both areas can be helped and stopped.
About the author:
Jennifer McGregor has wanted to be a doctor since she was little. Now, as a pre-med student, she’s well on her way to achieving that dream. She helped create PublicHealthLibrary.org with a friend as part of a class project. With it, she hopes to provide access to trustworthy health and medical resources. When Jennifer isn’t working on the site, you can usually find her hitting the books in the campus library or spending some downtime with her dog at the local park.