For many who struggle with substance use disorders, there exists an increased risk of suicide. But how are suicide and addiction linked? Several factors contribute to suicide, and many overlap with those of addiction. Read on to explore the connection between addiction and suicide, and how suicidal ideation and addiction can be treated as co-occurring disorders.
How are Suicide and Addiction Linked?
Several key factors can be attributed to a higher risk of suicidal ideation, and many are the same factors linked to a higher occurrence of substance abuse and drug addiction.
Suicide Risk Factors
- Isolation –When an individual is struggling emotionally, it can be hard to cope. Compound these feelings with isolation, and it can feel as if there is nobody there to listen or provide support. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic where many remain quarantined and social distancing is the norm, feelings of isolation and loneliness are common and suicide rates are likely to increase.
- Fear – Fear and worry are natural emotions, but when they happen so frequently that they interfere with day-to-day life, that fear can become debilitating. Whether it’s fear of the unknown, fear of what will happen in the future, or fear of judgment because of emotional distress or substance abuse, this emotion can often be linked to suicidal ideation.
- Stigma and Prejudice –While the stigma surrounding mental health has made great strides, there’s still an enormous amount of prejudice and judgment around having a disorder. Instead of finding proper help, many opt to suffer in silence to avoid the risk of judgment. Mental health struggles that go untreated, especially when compounded by the stigma surrounding mental health, can often lead to suicide.
- Psychiatric Disorders – Many psychiatric disorders are linked to a higher risk of suicide. For disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, and more, there is a multitude of emotions that can be exacerbated by psychiatric struggles. Many of these disorders and conditions are linked to a higher risk of suicide. Approximately 60% of people who commit suicide have a mood disorder.1
- Economic Stress –Financial troubles and economic stress can be huge risk factors for suicide. Whether it’s stress due to job loss, falling behind on bills, or seemingly insurmountable debt, economic hardships can be detrimental to a person’s mental health and can often be linked to suicide.
- Domestic Violence – For many individuals struggling with domestic violence, it can feel easier to cope alone than to seek help. This isolation only exacerbates the emotions that come along with domestic violence, and many can fear the stigma associated with coming forward. Suicidal thoughts are common for those who do not seek help when dealing with domestic violence.
The Overlap of Risk Factors for Suicide and Substance Abuse
Many risk factors of suicide are also linked to substance abuse. It’s common for individuals with suicidal thoughts to also have a co-occurring substance use disorder (SUD). When exploring the risk factors of suicide, it’s important to note the overlap between those of SUD.
- Isolation –Turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with the feelings of loneliness and isolation is a common response of many individuals. This increased reliance on substances to cope can quickly lead to substance use disorders and drug addiction.
- Fear – Substance use is common for those struggling with feelings of fear – whether due to change, uncertainty, or what the future holds. Turning to drugs and alcohol as a way to handle this uncertainty can spiral quickly into addiction.
- Stigma and Prejudice – The stigma associated with addiction, mental health disorders, suicidal thoughts, and more can lead many individuals to stay silent rather than seek help. It’s common for those with SUD to continue using a substance in silence rather than finding help or discovering healthy coping mechanisms.
- Psychiatric Disorders – Substance abuse is commonly linked to a co-occurring psychiatric disorder. Studies report that individuals with mood or anxiety disorders are twice as likely to also have a drug use disorder.2 Individuals with depression or other mental health disorders can turn to substance use to cope with their feelings. SUD exacerbates the feelings of depression and often leads to a vicious cycle of mental health struggles and substance abuse.
- Economic Stress –Individuals under financial stress are at a major increased risk for substance abuse and drug addiction. When facing economic problems, turning to substance use can help one avoid the reality of what’s going on financially..
- Domestic Violence – For those with SUD, domestic violence can escalate quickly and become increasingly dangerous. For the victims of domestic violence, turning to substances can be a common coping method, making domestic violence one of the biggest risk factors for addiction.
Who Suffers the Most from Suicide and Substance Abuse?
When exploring the connection between suicide and substance abuse, it’s important to note that certain populations are linked to higher suicide rates, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, and drug addiction. Younger adults who attempt or commit suicide are also more likely to also have a substance use disorder.3
Increased Risk of Suicidal Ideation
- Young Adults – Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among young adults, and many young people record suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts each year. 4 Suicidal ideation is often linked to a co-occurring mental health or substance use disorder.
- LGBTQ – For individuals in the LGBTQ population, suicide rates are much higher. Studies report that LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers.5
- Trauma Victims – Victims of trauma can suffer from deep emotional scarring. For some, it can be difficult to face memories or relive certain feelings when working through trauma with professional help. However, untreated trauma and emotional after-effects can lead to an increase in suicidal ideation.
- People in Financial Distress – Financial distress can lead individuals into thinking that there is no way out of their situation. Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and embarrassment that often come with economic stressors can increase the risk of suicidal ideation.
- People with Depression – There is a clear link to suicidal ideation when examining the common symptoms and side effects of depression. Feelings of hopelessness and despair can quickly spiral into suicidal ideation. Suicidal thoughts are frequently identified as a symptom of major depressive disorder.
Increased Risk of Substance Abuse
- Young Adults – The age group of young adults is commonly highlighted as an at-risk population for substance abuse. Approximately 15% of high school students report using illicit substances and drugs, and 14% reported misuse of prescription opioids.6 Drug use can be attributed to several factors, ranging from a lack of school connectedness to familial history with substance abuse or even a response to trauma.
- LGBTQ – The LGBTQ population faces many emotional hurdles. For those who feel unsupported in their communities or even in their own homes, this feeling can lead to an increased risk of SUD.
- Trauma Victims – It’s common for many coping with the effects of trauma, both emotionally and physically, to turn to substances to escape from trauma. This puts trauma victims at a much higher risk of substance use disorders.
- People in Financial Distress – When individuals are dealing with economic stress, whether from job loss or other major life changes, turning to drugs or alcohol is a common coping mechanism. Financial troubles can also be an indicator that someone is dealing with drug addiction, as they’ll often make risky financial decisions to fund this addiction.
- People with Depression – For those suffering from depressive feelings, it can be a natural response to turn to addictive substances to combat and even counteract these feelings. This is a dangerous combination, however, as many addictive substances can also trigger deeper feelings of depression, leading to an unhealthy cycle.
Treating Suicidal Ideation as a Co-Occurring Disorder with Addiction
There are many effective methodologies to treat suicidal ideation as a co-occurring disorder with substance abuse. Seeking the help of a mental health professional through therapy or counseling can allow an individual to navigate their emotions, recover from trauma, and make healthier choices.
Help is also possible through the education and support of various suicide prevention groups and mental health organizations. There are groups specifically to support at-risk populations with higher suicide rates, as well as groups that focus on the education and prevention of certain suicide methods. For some, treatment may involve prescribed medication by their healthcare provider to best manage the symptoms of mental health disorders that increase the risk of suicide or addiction.