Addiction & Suicide Statistics
- In 2011 alone, about 230,000 emergency department visits were caused by drug-related suicide attempts.
- A diagnosis of alcohol misuse or dependence is associated with a 10 times greater suicide risk. Those who inject drugs have a 14 times greater risk.
- Substance abuse is associated with an increased risk in all people, but the problem is most pronounced in women.
- Many people with substance abuse issues also have mental health conditions. Men with depression and alcohol use have the highest long-term suicide risk. But anyone with a mental health condition and substance abuse problems could face difficulties.
Suicide & Specific Substances of Abuse
Anyone who abuses substances faces a higher risk of suicide, but the specific drugs a person uses can alter risks. These are some of the substances closely related to suicide risks:
Of all the substances a person might use, alcohol is the easiest to access. Visit a restaurant, grocery store, or liquor store, and a drink is easy to get. But alcohol is a depressant drug, capable of slowing down breathing rates and reducing electrical activity inside the brain. Sometimes, people feel sadness or depression while drinking or when the drug wears off.
Of all substances associated with suicide, alcohol has the strongest connection. More than 20 percent of deaths by suicide involve alcohol intoxication.
Drugs in this class include heroin, prescription painkillers, and illicit painkillers (like fentanyl). These substances are central nervous depressants, just like alcohol. They work by boosting feel-good chemicals within the brain, causing euphoria. In time, brain cells will no longer produce such chemicals without drugs.
A drug-induced depression can be hard to overcome, and sometimes, it keeps people using drugs despite the consequences. But as addiction deepens, so does that sadness. Sometimes, it leads to suicidal thoughts or attempts.
Researchers say opioids are part of about 20 percent of suicide deaths, but that number could be inaccurate.
Some people don’t leave notes or plans behind when they die by suicide. A death may look like an overdose and not a suicide.
In a study of people who had visited an emergency room due to an opioid overdose, 39 percent said they wanted to die or didn’t care about the risk. Another 15 percent said they weren’t sure of their intent when they overdosed.
In many states, marijuana is a legal drug. People can visit dispensaries and buy all the drugs they’d like if they can afford it. In states where marijuana is illegal, dealers often sell it to people who want it.
Marijuana is a hallucinogenic drug, capable of alerting a person’s perception of reality. Some long-term users struggle to discern the differences between what’s really happening and what’s not. And sometimes, those hallucinations can be frightening.
More than 10 percent of suicide deaths involve the presence of marijuana. The drug itself can’t cause death, but some people get high before they try another method.
A stimulant drug speeds up the heart and breathing rates, and at high doses, the drugs can cause euphoria and a feeling of power. Stimulants can also cause impulsivity and aggression. When combined, these two states could make people harm themselves or someone else.
Why Are Addiction & Suicide Linked?
Suicide is a very private and personal event that could be sparked by overlapping problems and prompts. These are four of the common threads that seem to link addiction and suicide in some people:
Nearly 4 percent of adults 18 and older have serious suicidal thoughts. Life can be difficult, and it’s not unusual for people to consider ending their suffering through suicide. Some addictive drugs make acting on these thoughts easier.
Many addictive drugs reduce electrical activity inside the part of the brain that regulates long-term planning. When this part of the brain isn’t functioning, people are less likely to think through an impulse. A random idea can coalesce into a plan within seconds, and people may act on those plans while intoxicated.
Many addictive drugs can alter brain chemistry, reducing chemicals that can boost the mood. Researchers call this a “negative affective state,” which could be an increased risk factor for suicide.
When people have a severely depressed mood that won’t lift, suicide may seem like the only way out.
Life with an addiction isn’t easy. People must find and take the drugs they need, and sometimes, they must hide their use from their friends, family, and employers. All this stress takes a toll.
Researchers say physical stress caused by addiction and metabolic stress from drug damage can make suicide more likely. This particular problem is more common among older adults, but it could happen to anyone.
Underlying Mental Health
People with underlying mental health challenges, such as depression or anxiety, can self-medicate with addictive substances.
People with substance use disorders are twice as likely to have mood and anxiety problems, and researchers say the reverse is true too. Combining these problems also means making each issue worse. And sometimes, the challenges are so severe that suicide seems reasonable.
An underlying mental health issue is also associated with accidental overdoses of drugs.
Additional Suicide Risk Factors
Suicidal tendencies often overlap, and while it’s clear that addiction plays a role, some people have other risk factors too.
Known risk factors for addiction that don’t include substance abuse include the following:
- Access: People who can grab guns or high doses of drugs are more likely to act on suicidal thoughts.
- Stress: Bullying, job loss, and other difficult events can increase suicidal risks.
- Exposure: Reading or hearing about another person’s suicide can increase suicidal risks in survivors.
- Physical: People with ongoing pain or traumatic brain injury are more likely to face suicidal risks.
Some people with addiction have these other risk factors too. Combining issues like this could be extremely dangerous.
Suicide Warning Signs to Watch For
Many suicides combined with addiction are impulsive events. People get the urge to harm themselves and act on those thoughts within moments. But sometimes, people struggle with suicidal thoughts for long periods, and they display symptoms outsiders can see.
Anyone who discusses suicide should be taken seriously. People who talk about hurting themselves, discuss ways to hurt themselves, or explain why the world would be better without them need help.
Other suicidal warning signs include the following:
- Researching methods to end their lives
- Withdrawing from friends or family
- Giving away important items
- Creating a will
- Taking dangerous risks
It’s not easy to tell the difference between worsening addiction and increasing suicidal thoughts. The two can be very similar and connected.
But both addiction and suicidal thoughts are treatable conditions that can be addressed. People struggling with these issues may not realize that help is available, and they may be comforted to know that you care enough to start a conversation.
How to Help Someone at Risk
Talking is the best way to begin to help someone struggling with either addiction or suicidal thoughts. Explain the symptoms you’ve seen, and outline why the person is so important to you. Offer your help and support.
Since suicidal behavior is impulsive, take any items the person might use to commit the act. Consider removing firearms, rope, additional drugs, and knives from the home.
You can also contact the two following organizations:
Tell them about the suicidal risks you’ve seen and ask for urgent help. The organization could offer an ambulance to bring the person to safety, and you could get tips on providing important help in the interim.
Getting Help for Addiction
Continued use of addictive drugs raises suicide risks. The sooner someone stops using drugs and alcohol, the more likely it is that they’ll live a healthy and happy life.
People with suicidal risks often benefit from medication. People who abuse opioids may find that buprenorphine-based therapies can ease their drug cravings and withdrawal depression. As the addiction eases, suicidal ideations may fade too.
People who have abused other substances, including marijuana and stimulants, don’t have FDA-approved medications to treat addiction, but they may benefit from medications to ease underlying mental health challenges like depression or anxiety. These therapies could lessen their distress and help suicide risks to fall.
Talk therapy is an important part of the addiction recovery process. A therapist could help people to understand why their suicidal thoughts began, and the person can use techniques to address those thoughts without acting on them. Therapy can also help people to stop abusing drugs and deal with their relapse triggers.
If someone you love is abusing drugs, explain how therapy can work and offer to help them find the treatment they need. You could be a crucial part of changing the person’s life for the better.
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