Shedding Light on the Connection Between Substance Abuse and Suicide

Addiction is a terrible disease that destroys lives and affects millions worldwide. People are ruined financially as they do anything to satisfy their addiction. Ruining relationships in the process and even leading to accidental death.

Another tragic consequence is suicide. This is a frequently overlooked result but the research tells us that there is a strong correlation between substance abuse and suicide.  Depression is a strong indicator for suicide and people self-medicate with alcohol and drugs like heroin or prescription medication to feel better.

Approximately one-third of individuals who die by suicide have a substance abuse problem. People who are at risk of this need professional help immediately.

Why Does Substance Abuse Lead to Suicide?

Suicide risk varies from one person to the next, depending on how deeply rooted their addiction is, what effects it has had on their lives, and the circumstances that led to the addiction.

Isolation leaves people alone with their feelings

Addiction isolates people. Those who are struggling hide, often until it’s too late. That isolation leads to powerful emotions taking hold. Fear and helplessness are among the feelings that can lead an individual to die by suicide. They become so overwhelmed that they believe there is no way out.

The hopelessness that interferes with daily living

Many people who are struggling feel a sense of hopelessness that can become apparent to close friends and family members. This results from the tremendous strain of dealing with addiction, and in many cases, its underlying causes. Individuals may struggle with daily tasks as real life is just too much for them. 

Co-existing mental health issues

There is a strong link between mental illness, substance abuse, and suicide. About 50% of people who die by suicide suffer from depression or anxiety, and virtually all of these attempt to deal with these challenges with alcohol and drugs.

Cravings that lead to regret

Something to watch for is a significant increase in the use of alcohol and drugs like oxycodone or heroin as individuals struggling with substance abuse become more and more addicted. This can lead to a string of poor choices that the individual cannot seem to control, but that leaves them with unbearable feelings of regret.

How to Help

Understanding the link between suicide and addiction will help guide you when a loved one is in crisis. Contact emergency services immediately if you suspect that a loved one is in danger.

A significant percentage of people who die by suicide have a substance abuse problem. Depression and feelings of desperation are displayed by most individuals with addictions and suicidal thoughts. It can take multiple attempted suicides before they finally succeed.

Individuals recently out of rehab are at significantly greater risk of relapse and therefore suicide.  Look for feelings of guilt and shame if your loved one turns once more to substance abuse.  66% of violent deaths in 2013 were suicides, and many were directly linked to substance abuse. Relapse can generate feelings of failure that can seem overwhelming.

Suicide attempts typically take about fifteen minutes of planning. It’s an impulsive decision with tragic consequences. Family members and friends of people with addictions – including those fresh out of rehab – need to watch for signs like severe sadness, hopelessness, and despair.

Substance abuse can alter the brain chemistry, making the individual more susceptible to suicidal ideations and attempts. If your loved one stops enjoying the things they have always loved, that is an indicator that they are at risk of suicide, especially if this is accompanied by drug and alcohol addiction. 

The individual may need immediate professional help. Alcohol and many drugs can lower inhibitions and increase the likelihood of impulsive decisions and high-risk behavior. If your loved one starts to act recklessly, without caring about the consequences to their life or safety, it’s time to intervene.

A Specialized Plan

A study done in the US in 2015 found that 8.9 million people aged 18 years reported having suicidal thoughts.  The same pattern was found among the elderly and at least half of those also had a substance abuse disorder.

Another study shows that opiate-related deaths have doubled over the last fifteen years. At least half of these are suicides, and that number is growing faster than any other.  These numbers highlight the link between substance abuse and suicide. 

Because of the nature of addiction and what each individual has experienced, everyone needs a personalized treatment plan, such as the ones provided by Aspen Behavioral Group. It’s never too late to seek help, and our doors are open to people in a state of crisis who need a safe haven where they can be gently taken off the ledge so they can start their journey of recovery.


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