By LYLE R. FRIED, CAP, ICADC, CHC In Relationships and Addiction, Social Issues
Posted February 9, 2018
In the United States, someone dies from suicide every 13 minutes. This adds up to about 40,000 suicide deaths annually.
And while depression and mood disorders are the number one risk factor for suicide, substance abuse is a very close second.
In fact, people who struggle with substance abuse are about six times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. The suicide rate for individuals with untreated substance abuse disorders is reportedly as high as 45%.
Why is there such a strong connection between suicide and drug addiction? Let’s take a look.
Mental Illness Can Lead to Drug Use
Research shows that individuals diagnosed with an anxiety or mood disorder, such as depression, are about twice as likely to abuse substances.
The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness consume 69% of the nation’s alcohol and 84% of the nation’s cocaine. About 56% of individuals with bipolar disorder have experienced drug or alcohol addiction within their lifetime.
Co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse disorders are referred to as comorbidity, and they naturally increase the risk of suicide.
Many people who suffer from mental illness turn to drugs or alcohol to ease their symptoms, but this relief is only temporary. A study published by the National Institute of Health reveals that alcoholism actually worsens depression, as alcohol lowers serotonin levels. The “comedown” from stimulants like cocaine can also exacerbate anxiety and depression.
So it’s clear that people who already have mental illnesses are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol, partially explaining the link between drug addiction and suicide. However, it must be noted that substance abusers who commit suicide often don’t have depression or any type of mental illness.
Let’s explore some additional factors:
Consequences of Addiction
Substance abuse leads to severe legal, financial, and relationship issues. Addicts facing divorce, losing custody of children, jail time, and/or crippling debt can easily feel that all hope is lost.
Rehabilitation may seem like an impossible mountain to climb, so some addicts eventually decide that suicide is the only escape from their mounting problems.
The Stigma of Addiction
Although addiction is classified as a disease, drug addicts are generally treated with judgment and disgust rather than empathy.
Naturally, being treated as a second-class citizen cripples an addict’s self-esteem. They begin to feel isolated from society and from their loved ones, leading to feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, and guilt over their inability to quit. Addiction comes to define the addict, resulting in a loss of identity.
Reaching out to ask for help may seem intimidating or even impossible. Ultimately, these feelings—and their role in untreated addiction—can increase suicidal thoughts and the risk of suicide.
Access to Dangerous Substances
Along with mood disorders and substance abuse, access to lethal means is one of the most critical risk factors for suicide.
Of course, people who abuse alcohol and especially drugs know how to “access lethal means” more easily than most. Poisoning is the third-leading type of suicide, and 75% of the poison used for suicide is some type of drug.
It’s common knowledge that drug and alcohol abuse impairs judgment. Addiction influences the way people think and make decisions, sometimes with lethal consequences.
At the same time, drugs and alcohol cause people to lose their inhibitions. They may take risks they wouldn’t normally take otherwise.
Both alcohol and drug withdrawal symptoms can be severe and painful. These symptoms may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Aches and pains
Other symptoms include extreme worry and depression, increasing the risk of suicide. This risk is especially high for individuals who are using drugs or alcohol to mask mental illness. When these buried feelings come rushing back, suicidal thoughts are likely to surface as well.
When attempts to quit aren’t successful, the resulting shame, guilt, and hopelessness can also result in thoughts of suicide.
Substance abuse is dangerous for many reasons: the possibility of accidental overdose, decreased life expectancy, increased potential for fatal accidents, etc. But it’s also a critical risk factor for suicide.
Not only do mental illness and substance abuse often co-occur, but the effects of addiction cause increased vulnerability to suicide. These effects include severe consequences in almost every aspect of life, stigma, easier access to lethal substances, impaired judgment, and withdrawal symptoms.
The connection between suicide and drug addiction is yet another reason that it’s vital for addicts to seek treatment. Call 1-888-249-2590 to speak with an addiction specialist or contact us here.