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Both suicide and substance abuse are huge problems in America. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 10 and 24. It’s also the fourth leading cause of death for those between the ages of 35 and 54. In 2016, there were twice as many suicides as there were homicides.
Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are signs of extreme distress. They’re often overlooked or downplayed. However, these these thoughts are not harmless. They are intrusive and should not be ignored.
There’s a strong link between suicide and drugs and alcohol. This article will look at the correlation between the two, and how they can both be treated at a drug or alcohol treatment facility. There are many different treatment options available. Getting assessed by mental health professionals will be the first step towards recovery.
How Substance Abuse Increases Suicide Risk
There’s a positive link between suicide and substance use disorders (SUDs). In particular, those who abuse cocaine, opioids or alcohol have the highest risk. Drug addicts and alcoholics are more likely to struggle with suicidal thoughts for several reasons.
For one, substance abuse results in neurochemical changes, which can result in suicidal behaviors and thoughts. Studies show that suicide victims have decreased levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Those who engage in substance abuse will also have low levels of the same neurochemicals. This means that they’re more likely to be mentally unstable. With long-term substance abuse, these neurochemical levels will fluctuate. The body will also produce less of these neurochemicals. It will start to rely on artificial stimulation.
Many people who are thinking of committing suicide struggle with depression. They may use various substances to self-medicate. While drugs or alcohol may temporarily boost neurochemical levels, they will eventually cause the body to produce less of it.
A second reason for the link between substance abuse and suicide is that people lose their inhibitions when they abuse drugs or alcohol. They are more likely to be impulsive and to engage in risky behavior.
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Risk Factors for Both Suicide and Addiction
A risk factor is any characteristic or attribute that makes an individual more likely to struggle with a disease or injury. There are certain risk factors for suicide. Those who possess more risk factors have a higher likelihood of being plagued with suicidal ideations.
Suicide risk factors can be separated into three distinct categories: health factors, environmental factors, and historical factors. Understanding what these risk factors are can help researchers identify more effective strategies for preventing suicide.
Health factors that increase the risk for suicide are usually related to one’s mental health. Approximately 90% of people who commit suicide will have struggled with some type of mental illness. The following mental health conditions increase a person’s likelihood to have suicidal thoughts:
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Conduct disorder
- Mood disorders
Those who have serious injuries that cause unbearable pain may also be more prone to suicide. While they may not necessarily want to die, they may want their pain to end. Some common injuries or diseases that can increase suicide risks include traumatic brain injury and cancer.
Drug abusers and alcohol abusers are likely to struggle with mental health disorders. Substance abuse causes neurochemical levels to fluctuate. This can lead to depression or anxiety.
A person’s environment can have a massive influence over their thoughts and behaviors. Environmental factors can result in an increased risk of suicide. Common environmental factors to be aware of include:
- Access to dangerous weapons or drugs
- Being a victim of bullying
- Exposure to another person’s suicide
- Prolonged stress or harassment
- Relationship problems
- Stressful life events, like divorce or a financial crisis
These environmental factors can also lead to drug or alcohol relapses. This is why it’s important for patients who struggle with both issues to seek help from an inpatient treatment facility. A residential treatment program will provide patients with a new environment. This environment is peaceful, calm and free of triggers.
One’s history or background can also make one more prone to suicide. Some common historical factors that increase suicide risk include:
- Previous suicide attempts
- Childhood abuse, neglect or trauma
- Genetics or family history
The presence of certain genes can increase one’s risk of suicide. There’s definitely a fairly large genetic component involved. A child with a mood disorder will be 5 times more likely to exhibit suicidal behaviors if his or her parents attempted suicide at least once in their life.
Protective factors are the opposite of suicide risk factors. They help individuals deal with stressful events more effectively. These factors also help eliminate or mitigate the risk of suicide.
There are several factors that can prevent a person from considering suicide. Some of the protective factors for suicide include:
- Being employed. Those who are employed tend to feel like they have a purpose in life. This may stop them from deciding to end their life.
- Having a trusting relationship with a professional. This professional can be a physician, a counselor or a service provider. By having a trusting relationship with one of these people, the affected individual will have a greater chance of working through his or her problems. Many people get the support they need from alcohol and drug rehab facilities.
- Identifying reasons for living. Popular reasons could include having to take care of a child or a pet, or wanting to achieve a certain goal.
- Achieving and maintaining sobriety. Those who are able to kick an addiction tend to have a healthier mental state.
- Having a stable marriage. A healthy marriage can help mitigate depression and other risk factors.
- Having an optimistic perspective on life. To do this, one should focus on the solutions and not the problem. It’s also important to focus on the good and to compliment yourself.
- Attending religious or spiritual meetings. Faith can help many people get their life back on the right track.
- Attending support groups or recovery meetings, like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Recovery meetings can offer addicts the social and emotional support they need to start anew. These meetings also give affected individuals an opportunity to vent their frustrations.
Those who are at risk of suicide should try to increase the number of protective factors they have in their life. These factors can improve their mental state and health.
Suicide Warning Signs
To help someone who is suicidal – or to prevent suicide – the first thing is to be able to identify it. A person who is suicidal will usually exhibit a fairly noticeable change in behavior. The suicidal thoughts may stem from a painful event, change or loss. It could also be due to neurochemical imbalances due to substance abuse.
“40% of all patients who seek addiction treatment will attempt suicide at least once in their life.”
In general, those who end up taking their own life will usually show certain warning signs before the suicide attempt. These warning signs for suicide are related to the way they talk, their behavior and their mood. Here are some warning signs to look out for:
- Withdrawal from friends and family. Those contemplating suicide will usually isolate themselves from others prior to the event.
- Constant conversations related to killing themselves or having no reason to live. It’s not unusual for those thinking about suicide to feel hopeless and to feel like they’re a burden to others. They may feel trapped in their current lives. Many suicide victims were talking about feeling hopeless and wanting to die.
- Unbearable pain. Often, people who choose to commit suicide will be in unbearable pain. This could be due to a horrendous accident or even from drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
- Mood changes. Anger, anxiety, depression, and irritability are all common moods for a suicidal person. Over 50% of people who took their own life struggled with major depression. If a person is both an alcoholic and depressed, this figure rises to 75%.
- Reckless or unusual behavior. Keep an eye out on people who are giving away their prized possessions and those who are more likely to engage in risky behavior.
Those who are contemplating suicide may also increase their use of alcohol or drugs. They may engage in polydrug abuse and try more than one drug at a time. This type of substance abuse is significantly more dangerous.
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A Look at the Relationship Between Opioids and Suicide
There’s a strong link between opioid misuse and suicide attempts. Opioid abuse is associated with an increased risk of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. Those who use opioids more than once a week are most at risk.
An opioid overdose is also relatively peaceful. The overdose victim will slowly start to fall asleep. At which point, they’ll stop breathing. They’ll experience both cardiac and respiratory depression and failure. The number of people who commit suicide by abusing opioids has doubled since 1999.
Many people who have attempted to take their own life will tell you that they didn’t want to die. They merely wanted their pain to end. This mindset is similar to those who abuse opioids. This is especially true for those who misuse prescription opioids, like oxycodone or hydrocodone.
Further research should explore the relationship between opioid misuse and suicide. This will help us understand the complexities involved with both issues. It’s difficult to determine when an overdose is a suicide attempt. However, more and more researchers are starting to realize that there’s a link between the two. Those who abuse opioids often know their limits, and are taking a potency that they know to be lethal.
How to Treat Addiction and Prevent Suicide
Those struggling with both an addiction and suicidal thoughts will need mental health treatment. Depending on the rehab center, this can include anything from counseling to behavioral therapy.
To treat addiction and prevent suicide, most mental health professionals recommend an intensive treatment plan that features both behavioral therapy and medication. Each patient will have his or her own individualized treatment plan. The treatment will depend on the substances being abused, the severity of the addiction and the seriousness of the mental health issues.
Behavioral therapies teach individuals how to manage cravings, avoid relapses and redirect negative thoughts into healthier, positive ones. There are many different types of therapeutic treatment options to choose from. The most popular ones include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
- Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET).
With CBT, mental health professionals work with patients to identify triggers that cause them to crave drugs and alcohol or have suicidal thoughts. Then they teach patients how to utilize specific coping strategies during a suicidal crisis. CBT also teaches improved communication methods and stress-management practices.
After 12 weeks of CBT, 54% to 77% of patients will have fewer suicidal thoughts. These patients are also less likely to relapse on drugs and alcohol.
Family therapy, one-on-one counseling and group counseling are also popular options. They help to uncover the causes behind both issues.
A wide variety of different medications can also be used to treat both suicide and addiction. The type of prescription drugs recommended will depend on the patient’s drug of choice and the length of the abuse. It also depends on the type of mental health issues that the patients struggle with.
The prescription medications that are recommended will help rebalance brain chemistry levels.
Those who struggle with schizophrenia, as well as drug and alcohol abuse, may be prescribed clozapine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved this drug in 2003. Clinical trials showed that the drug could reduce suicidal behavior and hospitalizations.
Clinical trials have also looked at the efficacy of other antipsychotic drugs. Some studies suggest that olanzapine may be an ideal choice for addicts who also struggle with bipolar disorders.
What to Do If You Experience Suicidal Thoughts
If you’re having suicidal thoughts, don’t sweep it under the rug. Suicidal thoughts can be very intrusive. They may take over your thoughts and get in the way of your ability to go about your life.
If you ever feel suicidal, you need to get help right away. Talk about your experiences and your thoughts with a doctor, a mental health counselor or someone you trust. You should consider getting counseling. There, you will learn the skills you need to cope with these thoughts. Psychiatrists may even prescribe medications that can help your mind restore its natural brain chemistry levels.
Other things you should consider doing include:
- Calling a crisis helpline
- Getting in touch with trusted family and friends
- Going to a support group, whether it’s an in-person meeting or online chat via message boards
- Calling 9-1-1 or going to your local hospital or emergency departments
You should also consider drafting up a safety plan. A safety plan will include all of the personal strategies needed to keep you safe. You can either sit down and draft up the plan by yourself, or get a loved one or a mental health counselor to help you.
Practicing self-care is also essential. Look for ways to relieve stress. For example, go to a yoga class or learn how to meditate.
What to Include in a Safety Plan
Having a safety plan in place can make a world of a difference. It may be the difference between life and death. Due to this reason, it’s important for people with suicidal thoughts to put in as much effort as possible into their safety plan.
Each person will have different details in their safety plan. Each safety plan should include:
- Details on when the plan should be put into action. This may include the types of situations or thoughts that may lead to a suicide attempt.
- Reminders of the things that can help keep the suicidal person calm and happy. When feeling suicidal, it’s easy for the affected individual to feel empty and overwhelmed. Having a list of calming, soothing activities or routine to try can help him or her achieve a serene mindset.
- A list of reasons for living. Having a list of things to live for can be helpful during difficult times. It can help anyone who is suicidal to regain focus.
- People to go to for support. This includes the names and contact details of each person. Make sure to have more than one person to go to. These people can include family, friends and even professionals.
- Emergency information of local helplines. Call the helplines if all else fails.
- A way to keep one’s environment safe. Remove items that may cause harm or be used to cause harm, like sharp objects.
Implement the safety plan whenever suicidal thoughts start to appear. It’s important to commit to the plan. Those who follow it are less likely to commit suicide. They’ll be able to manage depressive thoughts.
How to Support Someone Who Is Suicidal or Who Has Attempted Suicide
Suicide is extremely prevalent in America. Approximately 123 Americans take their own life every day. It’s not unusual for most Americans to know more than one person who is suicidal.
Many people find it difficult to support someone who has attempted suicide. It’s hard to figure out what to say or how to approach the topic. The suicide attempt can also be an overwhelming experience for loved ones. They may have difficulties coming to terms with the situation.
Try doing the following things to support someone who has attempted suicide:
- Create a safe space. Make sure that the person who attempted suicide feels loved, supported, understood and cared about. Let that person know that they can come to you for help anytime. Make yourself available to him or her.
- Ask open-ended questions. These questions help open lines of communication. They make it easier for both parties to broach the topic.
- Try to understand the affected individual’s feelings and perspective. Although you may not necessarily understand their perspective, try to put yourself in his or her shoes. Explore possible solutions together.
- Remove any items that may cause harm from the suicidal individual’s surroundings. This can include sharp objects, drugs, and alcohol.
- Help the suicidal individual come up with a safety plan. The safety plan should be detailed. It should offer step-by-step instructions on how to keep the suicidal person safe.
- Encourage the affected individual to get help. This includes going to see a mental health counselor or even a psychiatrist. Professional support can make a huge difference.
Dealing with suicidal thoughts is not easy. Encourage anyone with suicidal thoughts to get help immediately. This is an urgent matter and should not be neglected.
Suicide Prevention Resources
Individuals who have suicidal thoughts can reach out to suicide prevention resources. There are plenty of emergency services and suicide prevention hotlines that offer around-the-clock crisis services. These organizations and resources also offer many free tools and information for loved ones.
There are many non-profit organizations around. Some are federally-funded while others are privately-funded. Take a look at some of the various resources that are available below:
Anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK . This is a United States-based network of 161 crisis centers. The helpline provides free and confidential support for those in distress. The hotline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The professionals on the other end can also provide crisis resources for loved ones.
Phone: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
The federal government funds the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC). The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides funding through a grant. With that said, no official endorsement should be inferred from the funding. The SPRC provides training and other materials and resources to suicide prevention practitioners. The center encourages and facilitates collaborations between many other organizations.
The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention was launched in 2010. This American suicide prevention organization coordinates national efforts to reduce suicide rates among minorities. The three minorities targeted by this organization include:
- LGBT youth
- Veterans and military personnel
- Native aboriginals, like American Indians and Alaska natives
This organization’s goal is to advance and improve three major priorities of the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (NSSP). These priorities are projected to reduce annual suicide rates by 20% by 2025. The primary objective is to look at how cultural differences lead to an increase in suicide risk. This organization pushes out many educational campaigns on the warning signs of suicide. They also focus on spreading effective intervention methods.
Founded in 1987, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is one of America’s largest non-profit organizations dedicated to saving those who are at risk of suicide. This organization is one of the largest private funders for suicide prevention research. Their goal is to create a culture that’s aware of the importance of mental health. They also want to find better ways to prevent suicide and bring hope to those who are affected by it.
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, also known as SAVE, believes that suicide is preventable. This non-profit organization provides free resources for those affected by suicide. They have many outreach programs and fund many awareness campaigns. Their goal is to prevent suicide through better education and public awareness. They want to reduce the negative stigma surrounding suicide and help those who are affected by it.
The Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7 support to anyone who needs help with suicidal thoughts. Those who are considering suicide can text CONNECT to 741741 from anywhere in the United States. They will then be connected with a crisis counselor, who will invite them to share more about what they’re going through. These counselors are trained volunteers. They provide support and help those in need sort through their own feelings.
There are many additional resources that target specific demographics. Some target specific age groups and may focus on teen suicide. Others may target those with specific cultural and religious beliefs. These additional resources often use specific research on suicide to help people in these demographics. There may be specific risk factors and warning signs that apply to people who fall into these categories.
Get the Help You Need for Suicidal Thoughts and Addiction as Soon as Possible
If you or someone you know is struggling with both suicidal thoughts and addiction, it’s important to get help immediately. This is an urgent medical matter that should not be neglected.
Those who struggle with both issues have a co-occurring disorder. They will need help from a rehab facility that specializes in dual diagnosis treatment. This type of treatment will treat both the addiction and the mental illness.
Immediate action can save lives. It can help the affected individual see the light and not spiral down deeper into an abyss.
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