The Hidden Link Between Addiction and Suicide

This article comes from Jennifer Scott. Thank you Jennifer for sharing this with us. As survivors we struggle with these issues a great deal.

Suicide is a major risk for people with mental health issues, but most often that suicide risk is linked to mood disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD, and the connection between addiction and suicide is overlooked. But that’s a mistake: Substance abuse dramatically increases the chance that a person will take their own life, and all too often those substances are the very tool they use.

How big is addiction’s role in suicide, and what can be done about it?

First, if you’re considering hurting yourself or taking your own life, stop and reach out for help. There are countless crisis hotlines and warmlines you can call, but the following three can be reached anywhere in the U.S. at any time, day or night:

● SAHMSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-4357. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s helpline connects callers with local mental health and substance abuse treatment and support. The helpline is operated in English and Spanish.
● National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. Established in 2005, the Lifeline also offers crisis support in Spanish (1-888-628-9454), TTY (1-800-799-4889), and via online chat.
● National Hopeline Network, 1-800-784-2433. Operated by the nonprofit Kristin Brooks Hope Center, this helpline also has an online crisis chat called IMAlive.

While most people living with addiction won’t die by their own hand, drug and alcohol abuse has a big impact on an individual’s suicide risk.

● Suicide is the leading cause of death among people with substance abuse disorders.
● People living with both a mood disorder and a substance abuse disorder are almost three times more likely to attempt suicide than people who have an addiction but do not have another mental illness.
● People with a substance abuse disorder are ten times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
● Alcohol makes people considering suicide more likely to make an attempt: More than one third of people who attempt suicide do so while under the influence of alcohol.
● Drug-influenced suicide attempts are on the rise: Between 2004 and 2011, the number of people who attempted suicide while under the influence of drugs rose 41 percent. In 2011, illicit drug users planned and attempted suicide at nearly twice the rate of people who abuse alcohol.

As these statistics make clear, drug and alcohol abuse should never be disregarded as a potential precursor to suicide. Whether an individual living with a substance abuse disorder is driven to suicide by their struggle or a person facing the hopelessness of depression uses alcohol to reduce their reluctance for self-harm, substances lead to danger.

Unfortunately, this risk is often overlooked. Since only 11 percent of people living with addiction seek treatment, mental health professionals may not realize their clients are abusing substances alongside an existing diagnosis. Friends and family members may not realize that a loved one’s drinking is more than a social undertaking, or, if they do, may not understand just how life-threatening addiction can be.

To reduce suicide among their patients, doctors must be proactive about screening clients for suicide risk. This means not only looking for indicators of addiction, but also asking directly about suicidal ideations.

Family members should stay alert to signs of a substance abuse disorder in their loved ones, encourage seeking help, and avoid partaking in drugs or alcohol with people living with mental illness.

Likewise, people living with a substance abuse disorder should treat their addiction just as seriously as any other illness. Instead of concealing drinking and drug use habits, addicts must push past the substance abuse stigma and share their challenges with their physician honestly. Through medication, therapy, and support groups, medical professionals can help patients break free of addiction.

Professionals can also help addicts identify healthy lifestyle strategies to help overcome addiction. Addiction doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and many substance abusers have outside factors driving their habits. Whether that’s depression, trauma, or dissatisfaction with life, lifestyle changes can bring healthier ways to cope with stress and negative emotions.

When you’re living with addiction and mental illness, it can seem like there’s no way out but suicide. But there’s a better way, and the first step is getting help.


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