Substance abuse and use can be precursors to suicide.  In fact, substance abuse and use are very strong risk factors, coming in second only to mood disorders, especially depression. While not all suicide attempts are lethal, suicide and substance abuse can be a deadly combination.  The National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) reported that in 2008 suicides in 16 different states showed that the following substances were found in the system of suicide victims:

  • Alcohol – 33%
  • Opiates, which included heroin and prescription painkillers – 25.5%
  • Antidepressants – 20.2%
  • Marijuana – 11.3%
  • Cocaine – 10.5%
  • Amphetamines – 3.4%

For people diagnosed with substance use disorders (SUDs), suicide and substance abuse are among the leading causes of death. The misuse of substances intensifies feelings of hopelessness and depressive thoughts while simultaneously lessening inhibitions to harming oneself. Alcohol and certain drugs can bring about a state of depression, clouding judgment about the repercussions of one’s actions and increase impulsivity. This confluence of factors may very well increase the risk of suicide and substance abuse or use.

Alcohol use disorders include alcohol abuse and even just alcohol dependence. Of all the people committing suicide in the U.S., it is estimated that 25% have alcohol use disorders. Acute alcohol disorders are episodes of binge drinking and this, as well as chronic drinking are both linked to suicidal behaviors.  Suicide and substance abuse, especially alcohol, increase the risk of death.

Among people suffering from alcohol use disorder, suicide and substance abuse often occur during a major depressive episode combined with interpersonal stressors or disruptions in a relationship with a partner or significant other. Other risk factors for suicide and substance abuse are feelings of hopelessness, aggression and impulsivity. Research has revealed that in 45% – 70% of those having alcohol and substance use disorders, who end up committing suicide, depression is also present.  Therefore, people with dual diagnoses or co-occurring disorders, such as depression and alcohol abuse, are at increased risk for suicide and substance abuse.

Chronic use of substances can bring about repercussions and losses that further add to the risk factors for suicide and substance abuse. Those being treated for substance abuse and/or those transitioning among different levels of treatment may actually be more vulnerable. A high percentage of those receiving treatment for substance abuse also suffer from mental disorders that certainly increase the risk of suicide, especially mood disorders, like depression. When these people enter treatment, their substance abuse may be completely out of control and chances are they are in the midst of various crises in their life, and this all adds up to having extreme symptoms of depression.  Attempts of suicide and substance abuse while intoxicated are likely to be indicators of untreated depression.

Mental disorders linked with suicidal behaviors often co-occur in people who’ve been in treatment for substance abuse. These mental disorders are typically:

Mood disorders including depression

  • PTSD
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Certain personality disorders

Certain crises known to increase the risk of suicide and substance abuse, like having a relapse or being between treatment programs, also make these individuals more vulnerable to suicide attempts. One research study compared people in the general population with those being treated for substance abuse and found that the latter have 10 times the risk of eventually taking their lives. Among people who use intravenous drugs, the risk is even higher, 14 times as great as those among the general population.  Suicide and substance abuse are 10 – 14 times more likely among those who have been in treatment for substance abuse and those who are IV drug users.

Those who have been diagnosed with substance abuse disorders have many risk factors in common with those who commit suicide:

  • Family history of suicide
  • Suffered child abuse
  • History of mental disorders, especially mood disorders
  • History of addiction or addiction in the family
  • Impulsiveness
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Difficulty getting access to mental health treatment
  • Suffered losses such as relationships, social position, job or career, financial
  • Physical illness and/or suffering chronic pain
  • Access to lethal methods for committing suicide
  • Ashamed of asking for help

Suicide and substance abuse are likely related to the co-occurring disorders of substance abuse and depression.  Because our substance abuse treatment center relies on evidence based practices, our Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Program shares many common methods with other successful rehab programs.  The foundations of our dual diagnosis treatment program for thoughts of suicide and substance abuse also rely on the principles of harm reduction, motivational interviewing, stages of change and cognitive behavioral therapy to promote recovery from alcohol abuse and drug treatment.  In fact, our Intensive Outpatient Program in Memphis, TN that has been proven to be effective in the alcohol abuse treatment and drug abuse treatment in peer reviewed treatment outcome studies.   Our treatment center  provides services to those who need more treatment than one hour a week, but less than 24 hour care, by providing three hours of treatment per day, three to five days per week, in an intensive outpatient setting.  If you or a loved one is showing signs of alcohol abuse or needs drug treatment rehab, they should be assessed by a trained mental health professional who can help design a suicide and substance abuse treatment plan that can result in recovery.  Treatment for substance abuse can be highly successful.  Call us at 901-682-1434 to schedule an appointment.

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