As of 2018, according to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Suicide deaths and attempts at suicide are often linked to mental health disorders. Depression is a well-known mental health issue directly related to suicide. Sometimes, it is believed that a person was going through a particularly rough time in their life, out of which they couldn’t see a way out, aside from taking their life. 

However, not many people are familiar with the fact that substance abuse disorders are also connected to higher suicide rates, especially when the substance in question is alcohol or opioids. One study suggests that those suffering from a substance abuse disorder (whether alcohol or drugs) are nearly six times more likely to attempt suicide than those who are not.

By looking into the reasons behind these alarming statistics and how substance abuse is linked to considering suicide, we hope to prevent suicide deaths in the future. Here is an outlook on how certain addictions influence the psyche and lead individuals to think about ending their lives. 

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol increases the likelihood of suicide in those who are alcohol abusers and those who drink alcohol only occasionally and have no problems with addiction. There are several potential ways that alcohol produces suicidal thoughts and behavior. 

  • Alcohol intoxication leads to more reckless and impulsive behavior. 
  • Alcohol usually lowers the inhibitions of an individual.
  • Alcohol – and especially alcohol use disorders – may cause events that force someone to consider suicide, such as arguments, relationship breakups, and similar. 
  • As a depressor of the nervous system, alcohol can increase the depressed state of an individual already suffering from it, as well as psychological distress and aggressiveness.

With information such as this, it becomes clear that those diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or mood disorders should be extremely cautious about consuming alcohol. In the same vein, those suffering from alcohol addiction run a higher risk of committing suicide than people who don’t. 

Opioid Abuse

Prescription opioids are morphine and methadone, among many others. Illegal recreational drugs such as heroin also belong in the opioid group. Individuals who consume either of these types of opioids are at a higher risk (studies say as much as 13 times) of dying by suicide. Unfortunately, that also includes people who are taking prescription opioid drugs for a more extended period of time (such as for treating chronic pain). 

However, with opioid use, it becomes difficult to pinpoint the exact way these drugs link to suicide. Extensive research proposes that opioids in themselves aren’t the sole reason for someone to end their life. Instead, individuals taking opioids or suffering from opioid use disorders often have a co-occurring disorder, such as major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or a medical condition that diminishes their quality of life. 

All of this together increases the risk of suicidal behavior and developing suicidal ideations.

Stimulant Abuse

Stimulant drugs are those that stimulate the nervous system – they increase energy levels, speed up thought processes, and often create a state of manic euphoria. The most common stimulant drugs are cocaine and amphetamines. Chronic abuse of these drugs leads to double the number of suicide attempts than the abuse of other drugs, including opiates. 

The main reason for these higher suicide rates in those who are abusing stimulants is the fact that stimulants make an individual much more impulsive than alcohol does. When they are ‘high,’ they experience more intense mood swings and are more likely to endanger themselves without actually caring about the consequences. 

Moreover, addiction treatment programs are usually focused on alcohol and opiates. Comparatively, few treatment facilities are specializing in stimulant abuse. More effective programs in prevention should be developed for stimulant substance abusers. 

Sedative Abuse

Sedatives are usually prescribed to treat anxiety and insomnia, such as benzodiazepines and, rarely, barbiturates. These types of drugs increase the risk of suicide by four times. 

Scientists are still not sure why this is happening. Some suggest that sedatives might increase aggression, though that is not often the case. Others say that when combined with alcohol, sedatives intensify impulsive tendencies, which could result in a suicide attempt. 

However, the main reason sedatives pose a risk in this sense could be simply because they represent an available method for taking one’s life. Overdosing on prescription medication is a known cause for suicide, and frequently that medication happens to be benzodiazepines or barbiturates. Access to lethal means is already a warning sign for suicide, and it may be exactly why there’s a higher number of suicide deaths in those consuming this type of medication. 

Marijuana Abuse

When it comes to marijuana consumption in itself, there is some risk of suicidal behavior. The science community advises caution, primarily because of the factors surrounding marijuana abuse. 

Namely, marijuana addiction is usually associated with a disadvantaged socioeconomic standing and an unhappy childhood, which are risk factors for suicide even without the marijuana abuse. Additionally, marijuana addiction often comes with co-occurring mental health issues that could cause an increased risk of suicide. 

One study discovered that marijuana users tend to have more significant suicidal ideation because of a sense of loneliness, alienation, and that they are a burden to others. It is unclear whether this type of depression is caused by marijuana abuse or if depression leads to marijuana abuse. Either way, marijuana users may have a greater desire to die by suicide than non-users. 

No Single Cause of Suicide

Even though we have listed several types of substance use disorders and how they may connect to suicide, it is important to remember that there is no single cause of suicide. Instead, in all cases, there are several different suicide risk factors at play, not only substance abuse. 

If a person is addicted to alcohol and/or drugs, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are harboring thoughts about ending their life. Other risk factors should be taken into account, such as whether the person has a mental disorder as well (an anxiety disorder, depression, personality disorder, etc.), what their life situation is like, whether they have attempted suicide in the past, and more. Each person and their situation should be evaluated individually. 

How Addiction Treatment Helps

Substance abuse treatment usually starts with medical detox, after which the individual enters a drug rehab program. In the program, the person is thoroughly assessed, and a treatment plan is tailored for them. This plan can include CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), group therapy, family therapy, holistic approaches to therapy, and other forms of addictions treatment. 

The goal of the addiction recovery process is to address the underlying causes of addiction – what thought patterns and behaviors lead to addiction, how a person can replace them with healthier alternatives, and how they can develop their coping and problem-solving skills. At the same time, suicidal individuals will learn to recognize risk factors for suicide, understand the links between substance use and suicide, and what could trigger suicidal behavior. 

Because the road to recovery is focused on not only the physical aspects of addiction but also on the mental and emotional components of it, recovering addicts also get the help they need to lower their risk of suicide. 

Conclusion

Substance abuse is a well-known risk factor for suicide. As explained in the text, some substances lead to a greater chance of suicide attempts than others, such as alcohol, opioids, and stimulants. Other drugs may not be directly involved in producing suicidal ideation, but they can contribute to an individual resolving to take that final step. 

If you are worried about someone close to you who may be addicted to a substance, the best thing you can do for them is to get help. The fact that they are an addict alone does not mean they are considering killing themselves. Still, they are at a greater risk of attempting suicide than non-users, especially if they have a history of depression, anxiety, or mental health issues. Do not hesitate to seek treatment for your loved ones, no matter what the circumstances are, because they will only benefit from that in the long run. 

Most importantly, you don’t have to do any of this alone. At Right Way Recovery, we are here to clear up any confusion about addiction and suicide you may have. If you feel like you need help or would just like some advice and guidance from a team of professionals, do not hesitate to give us a call. Dial (619) 630 – 7844, or visit our website for more information.