In the U.S., suicide kills more than 32,000 people a year, which is almost a new life lost every 16 minutes, according to a 2009 report by SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). Research in this report found what may be a surprising, that abuse of drugs or alcohol can lead to suicide.
While depression might be the condition most strongly correlated with suicide ideation, heavy substance abuse and addiction come in as a close second. SAMHSA further estimated that alcohol and drug abuse disorders can make a victim six times more likely to attempt suicide.
This was backed up by a survey of Australian youth victims of suicide, in which a third of all male suicides, and a quarter of all females, had illegal drugs in their system, and almost half of the men and a third of the women had a blood alcohol level above the legal driving limit.
This is a truth that should concern us deeply, and one that needs to be kept in mind. Health care providers, and people in recovery must do everything they can to prevent a person struggling with addiction from taking that tragic, final step of losing all hope.
Both suicide and addiction can attract a lot of irresponsible victim-blaming, or assumptions that people addicted to drugs or considering ending their own lives are simply weak-willed. These hurtful stereotypes couldn't be further from the truth.
In fact, the causes of suicide and addiction are both deeply complex and multifaceted, unique to each particular person's story, and requiring qualified care to ensure everyone gets the help they need.
Risks of suicide attempts tend to increase most dramatically if the substance abused is opiates, cocaine, sedatives, or heavy amounts of alcohol. Many drugs, including alcohol, lower inhibitions by suppressing parts of the brain that process and evaluate urges.
This can cause you to commit actions that would otherwise remain in your head. So a person already considering suicide is at tremendously greater risk for actually carrying their actions out when under the influence.
Furthermore, many drugs can intensify or worsen a mental health disorder. Many people may use recreational drugs or alcohol to "self-medicate," and try to fix the problem themselves by temporarily numbing their pain. Drugs may seem to temporarily help you make it through a hard episode of depression, but in the end it only makes the problem worse.
When the high wears off, disturbing thoughts or feelings will come back, often feeling stronger than ever. Abusing drugs also creates a lot of problems for your mental functioning, physical health, and ability to do tasks or maintain healthy relationships. Damaged relationships, loss of a job, or other problems can pile up on top of a brain that feels like it's already spiraling out of control, leaving you seeking anything that feels like a way out.
Although things may seem exceptionally hopeless, the truth is that people can recover with qualified and compassionate treatment. Stigma keeps a lot of people from admitting they have suicidal thoughts.
It can be very uncomfortable to admit that you have If you tell a health care provider, therapist, or addiction counselor, that you are thinking about suicide, he or she can work to help you find resources that can help you cope and keep you safe until you feel better.
Sometimes life will feel like too much to deal with, and the thought of giving up or making it all end can be very appealing. The trick is to keep going, simply to "keep on keeping on" until those overwhelming thoughts, feelings, or urges pass. Help from others can be an essential source of the encouragement you need to find the strength to press on.