Suicide and Substance Abuse

The Links Between Substance Abuse and Suicide

There are links between suicide and substance abuse, which may include addiction to prescription drugs as well as alcohol and controlled substances. When depression is present, the interplay between the substances involved and personal problems can be overwhelming. Because of this, substance abuse in and of itself is considered a risk factor for suicide.

Facts About Suicide and Substance Abuse

Between 25 and 55 percent of suicide victims have drugs and/or alcohol in their system at the time of their deaths.
The rise in drug abuse observed during the past thirty years is believed to be a contributing factor to the increase in youth suicide, particularly among males.
Major depression often develops after someone develops alcoholism rather than before.
Up to 7 percent of people with alcoholic dependence will eventually die by suicide, with middle-aged and older persons at especially high risk.
Teens who engage in high-risk behaviors (use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, along with sexual activity) report significantly higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts, according to a 2004 report funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
Additionally, binge drinking among teens has been identified as a predictive factor of suicidal thoughts— possibly because binge drinking episodes frequently precede serious suicide attempts.

Risk Factors for Suicide

A review of psychological autopsies of suicide victims with substance abuse problems has revealed several recurring characteristics:
TWO-THIRDS also suffered from a major depressive disorder, and not necessarily one diagnosed previously.
ONE-THIRD had attempted suicide at some other point in their lives.
Interpersonal crises and financial difficulties are common here among people who abuse substances and should be taken very seriously. This population is already at high suicide risk.
HALF had serious medical problems, for which the individual either self-medicates with controlled substances, or required prescription drugs.
HALF were unemployed at the time of death.
Finally, and most importantly, FOUR-FIFTHS had previously communicated suicidal intent through words and/or behavior.

Suicide Warning Signs

Given this last point, understanding the suicide warning signs is all the more important.
Most suicidal people give some of the clues and warning signs listed here. By learning the warning signs, paying attention and trusting your own judgment, you can make the difference between life and death.
Previous suicide attempts
Loss of job
Giving away prized possessions, making final arrangements, putting affairs in order
Themes of death or depression in conversation, writing, reading or art
Recent loss of friend or family member, especially through divorce, death, or suicide
Sudden dramatic change on the job or in schoolwork
Use or increased use of drugs and/or alcohol
Chronic headaches, stomachaches, or fatigue
Withdrawal or isolation from friends, family or school activities
Neglect of personal appearance
Taking unnecessary risks
Loss of interest in favorite activities or hobbies
Changed eating or sleeping patterns
Talks about or threaten suicide. (If this happens, TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION).

Suicide Prevention

Any one of these signals alone doesn’t necessarily indicate a person is suicidal. However, several warning signs may be cause for concern. Signals are especially important if the person has attempted suicide in the past. If you or a loved one is showing warning signs of suicide and / or alcohol or drug abuse, contact a trained mental health professional who can help design a treatment plan that can result in recovery. Treatment for alcohol, drug abuse and dual diagnosis disorders can be highly successful.  To learn more about Dual Diagnosis Disorders, visit or call us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.  In the mean time, listen and be a friend. Your actions may save a life.

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