The Link Between Addiction and Suicide

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We may feel like we’re at wit’s end, but that doesn’t mean we have to jump. (KieferPix/Shutterstock)

We may feel like we’re at wit’s end, but that doesn’t mean we have to jump. (KieferPix/Shutterstock)

Most people acknowledge the fact that addiction is an exceedingly miserable disease. Some of us begin drinking or abusing drugs to self-medicate issues such as major depression, while some of us become depressed as a result of our substance abusing lifestyle. But this is not a question about the chicken or the egg. Regardless of its origins, depression among addicts poses a potentially fatal threat. Every day, people commit suicide because they feel they are beyond all hope. And every day, their friends and families wonder what—if anything—they could have done to save them.

This question creates a great deal of sadness and frustration. When we lose a loved one to suicide, it is not our fault. No matter how much we may wish to protect those we love, addiction is a powerful nemesis. It hijacks the user’s mind and causes them to think irrationally. Perhaps drugs and alcohol quell their suicidal tendencies for a time, but this eventually stops working. At some point, the addict’s tolerance raises and drugs no longer keep their thoughts at bay. This is when tragedy so often ensues.

In order to prevent addicts and alcoholics from giving into suicidal tendencies, they must be treated for not only their addiction, but their underlying issues as well. Addicts who commit suicide, whether by overdose or other means, often feel alone. We must show addicts suffering from depression that people truly care. We must show them that the thoughts currently plaguing them can be cured through therapy, love, and familial support. Below, we will discuss suicide rates among addicts as well as the manner in which addiction warps the user’s mind. We will also discuss how therapy and support at home may help prevent some of these suicides. We understand that suicide itself cannot be eliminated. Nonetheless, all lives matter. If this discussion helps even one person, it will have done its job.

Suicide Rates Among Addicts

Prescription drugs account for a large percentage of the suicide rates among addicts. (Mike Focus/Shutterstock)

Prescription drugs account for a large percentage of the suicide rates among addicts. (Mike Focus/Shutterstock)

We’ve mentioned before that overdose is currently the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. But in terms of death overall, suicide is ranked tenth. According to the CDC, 42,773 people per year are lost due to intentional self-harm. This means that over forty thousand people sacrifice their lives because they feel there is no other way out of their depression. More than forty thousand people give up hope in the biggest way possible.

Back in 2011, the CDC analyzed the data on suicide among substance abusers in particular. They found that, between 2005 and 2007, the third-leading suicide method was poisoning. Of those poisoned, three-fourths of them (numbered 3,706 people) overdosed on drugs and alcohol. They also found that about one-third of those who overdosed did so by combining alcohol and prescription drugs. Among those who only consumed a single drug at the time of death, prescription drugs were the leading drug of choice. Various medications such as oxycodone and diazepam combined to make up 79% of this particular demographic. Street drugs surprisingly weighed in at only 2%.

The demographics on suicide rates among substance abusers remain largely similar. The leading age group is 40-64, but this is only 7% higher than the 18-39 demographic. Users below the age of 17 and above the age of 65, however, appear to be at a lesser risk. Race demographics do not differ too strongly, ranging from 8% to 15% depending on the race. Sex is where the change becomes drastic. The CDC attributes only 8% of male suicides to drugs and alcohol, versus 34% of female suicides. Their write-up on the implications of this study does not explain what, if any, significance can be found in this discrepancy.

What can be done about these numbers? Well, the answer may not lie in demographics but in the problem itself. First, we need to develop a greater understanding of suicide and its causes. Second, policy-makers must do more to limit the availability of prescription drugs, the leading cause of substance-related suicide. Third, we must promote the benefits of mental health treatment among those who abuse mind-altering substances. Amethyst can only do so much as far as the second point is concerned. The first and third points, however, will be addressed below.

How Addiction Warps Our Thinking

We must not let depression stand in the way of rational thinking. (Alexandr23/Shutterstock)

We must not let depression stand in the way of rational thinking. (Alexandr23/Shutterstock)

Addiction is not generally compatible with rational thinking. At times, justifiable fears can be obfuscated by a synthetic sense of euphoria. On the other side of the coin, substance abuse may exaggerate those things which make us feel helpless. Our fears, our sadness, our moments of weakness loom ever larger on the forefront of our minds. At these times, the darkness takes hold, diminishing our resolve. At these times, those who might ordinarily fight to make life worth living may give up on it entirely.

Then, there are those who already suffer from crippling depression when they are not using. These individuals find themselves in even greater danger when engaging in substance abuse. We often mention the fact that drugs and alcohol lower our inhibitions. Sometimes, our inhibitions may be the only things keeping us alive. The part of us that understands hope becomes clouded. Substance abuse silences that voice in the back of our head that wonders how our families would feel if we were gone. Our instinctive fear of death appears to vanish. In its wake stands an unnatural craving for oblivion.

We know this because many of us have experienced it ourselves. Some of us have attempted suicide and failed. Others were fortunate enough to be caught in the act. In treatment, we met many addicts and alcoholics with similar stories. Unfortunately, not all have been so lucky. Many succeed in their suicide attempts. They will never live to see the joys of recovery. They will never experience the hope that newfound spirituality brings us when we choose sobriety over addiction. And the ones they love can no longer admire family photos without experiencing a sense of grief. Because every time they see a picture of their beloved, they ponder the same poignant question: “What if?”

Addicts contemplating suicide must learn to ask this question before it is too late. What if we keep fighting? What if we choose to live to the best of our abilities? What if it really isn’t too late for us? We learn to ask ourselves these questions in therapy. More importantly, we learn to find answers to them. It’s a tough road, for some more than others. But many who attempted suicide at some point in addiction have gone on to live fruitful lives in sobriety. Below, we’ll discuss the ways in which treatment centers such as Amethyst can help you to do just this.

Preventing Suicide in Therapy

We must be honest with our therapists if we wish for them to help us. (IAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV/Shutterstock)

We must be honest with our therapists if we wish for them to help us. (IAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV/Shutterstock)

When addiction overlaps with suicidal tendencies, the key becomes treating both simultaneously. If we focus only on the user’s depression, they may continue using and fueling their negative emotions. If we focus only on the user’s addiction, then the damage done by their depression may have already put them over the edge. Nobody wants to see a loved one commit suicide just when things were on the verge of getting better. Treatment at a dual diagnosis facility such as Amethyst provides one way of preventing this.

Dual diagnosis is exactly what it sounds like. We look at those who need help and determine which symptoms may be interfering in their lives. Some may struggle with depression and anxiety. Others may struggle with different underlying issues that may influence their emotional states. But when provided with a dual diagnosis facility, these sorts of things are easy to overcome. It will not generally take us very long to distinguish a depressive patient from a manic one. In a very short span of time, we can tell you whether or not your loved one requires special attention.

Those who consider suicide often have mental issues that take time to uncover. If they are enrolled in treatment, this will not take us quite as long. We can deal with these issues as they pop up, but it may not be enough. If you believe that someone in your life may be on the verge of suicide, you must let us know about this immediately. Otherwise, we are essentially handling them in the dark. It is possible to prevent suicide in such an instance, but it is much easier when we understand the problem with which we are currently engaged. In other words, anyone with a suicidal loved one should apprise us of this situation before they enter treatment.

Dual diagnosis facilities such as Amethyst may sometimes be the only hope. Those who enter our facilities understand that their years are close to an end. Whether or not they have committed suicide is nearly irrelevant. What matters is that our patients understand that suicide is not the only option when presented with helplessness. We have the ability to put ourselves first. We have the ability to praise ourselves when necessary. No matter how we may feel, life is always worth living. The moment we forget this, we put ourselves in danger. We should never forget that life is always worth living. Life is a gift. Let’s treat it that way.

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