People with addictions are at high risk for suicide. That’s why early intervention with treatment that addresses both the physical and emotional components of substance abuse is critical for addicts.
Suicide and Addiction: The Silent Killer
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the nation. Research shows that people who suffer from substance use disorders are six times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population. A snapshot of suicide deaths in one year by the National Violent Death Reporting System showed that 33.4% of people had alcohol in their systems and 20% tested positive for opiates such as prescription painkillers and heroin at the time of death. Unfortunately, suicidality often goes undetected until it’s too late. Many loved ones of those who commit suicide say that they saw no indication that their family member or friend was depressed or considering killing themselves. People who are intent on taking their own lives realize that if they are to be successful, they must hide their plans. Knowing that those with addiction are at an increased risk for suicide and may not show signs of an impending attempt is another important reason that they obtain professional drug and alcohol treatment as soon as possible.
Why Addicts Are at Increased Risk for Suicide
Addictions and mental health disorders go hand in hand. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one-half of individuals with severe mental illnesses and one-third of individuals with mental disorders also have a substance use disorder. Sometimes individuals with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, personality and mood disorders, and psychosis use drugs and alcohol as a way to “self-medicate” their symptoms in the absence of proper mental health diagnosis and care. Other times, mental health disorders are developed or intensified by drug and alcohol abuse. The very nature of addiction can create the perfect storm of depression, hopelessness and loss of inhibitions. When abused, depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium can wreak havoc on the central nervous system and the serotonin supply that regulates mood, causing depression. Stimulants like cocaine and heroin increase the release of “feel-good” neurotransmitters in the brain. After continued use, they deplete the body’s natural supply of dopamine and serotonin, thus fueling depression in the absence of the drugs. Furthermore, the use of drugs or alcohol can increase reckless behavior and lower inhibitions, greasing the wheels of self-harming behavior.
7 Warning Signs of Suicidality
While the secrecy that typically surrounds suicidality makes it difficult to prevent, there are some general signs that a person might be planning to take their own life. According to the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide, these include:
- Extreme mood changes — Oftentimes those planning to take their own life begin feeling relief, knowing the pain will be over soon. They may start acting uncharacteristically happy or positive. They may also exhibit extreme depression, rage, lethargy, irritability and anxiety.
- Tying up loose ends — Having serious or deeply emotional conversations with loved ones that include apologizing for the past or telling them how much they love them could be a warning sign in those with mental health issues and addictions.
- Talking about killing themselves — If a loved one says they should just kill themselves or that they have no reason for living, it’s important not to write it off as the addiction talking or them having a bad day. This could be a key indicator of suicidality.
- Increased substance use — People who are suffering from suicidality may increase alcohol or drug use in an attempt to numb emotional pain.
- Isolation — Individuals who are depressed or contemplating suicide may withdraw from friends and family and stop participating in regular activities.
- Researching suicide — Online searches for ways to kill oneself and preoccupation with stories of others who’ve taken their own lives are common patterns in those with suicide ideations.
- Impulsivity — People considering suicide might act recklessly and impulsively. They might spend large amounts of money, give away prized possessions or engage in dangerous activities.
How Loved Ones Can Help
Addiction in and of itself is a slow suicide. Left untreated, it can lead to overdose and physical deterioration that result in death. Knowing that addiction also puts individuals at high risk for suicide is another reason to intervene early when drug or alcohol use has become problematic. According to the American Association of Suicidology, many people with suicide ideations do want to live, but their judgement is clouded and they are unable to see a way out of their problems. Loved ones can help by listening without judgement, offering hope that alternatives do exist and helping their loved one get professional help immediately. Sources: Prevalence of and Risk Factors for Lifetime Suicide Attempts in the National Comorbidity Survey Alcohol-Induced Depression: Involvement of Serotonin