The Connection Between Substance Abuse & Suicide Rates

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The link between substance abuse and suicide rates is undeniable. Studies have shown that over 50% of all suicides are associated with alcohol and drug dependence, while at least 25% of alcoholics and drug addicts commit suicide.

People with substance misuse and dependence problems are at an increased risk of co-occurring mental illness, with opioid use associated with a 40%-60% increased likelihood of suicidal thoughts and a 75% increased likelihood of suicide attempts. These statistics demonstrate the need for greater awareness and understanding of this complex issue to prevent further tragedies.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with a dual diagnosis of mental health and substance use disorders, Guardian Recovery can help. We will work with you to develop an individualized and effective program to help you recover from addiction and manage your mental health so you can get on the road to long-term recovery. We believe in the benefits of a full curriculum of clinical care, beginning with medical detoxification and psychiatric assessments, transitioning into a higher level of treatment, and concluding with personalized aftercare planning. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment options in your area.

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The Role of Substance Abuse on Mental Health & Suicidal Ideation

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly 1 in 3 adults had a substance use disorder (SUD) or mental illness in the past year. This statistic shows just how closely linked these two issues can be.

When discussing the connection between substance abuse and mental health, it’s important to note that drug use can both cause and worsen mental health issues. Studies have found that people with anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are more likely to develop an SUD than those without a mental illness. Substance abuse may sharply increase symptoms of mental illness or even trigger new symptoms. And prolonged substance abuse can lead to long-term changes in brain chemistry that can further impact an individual’s emotional well-being.

The link between substance abuse and suicide ideation is also concerning. Those who suffer from a substance use disorder and a co-occurring mental health condition are at an increased risk for suicide ideation and suicide attempts compared to those with only one of the conditions. Research has also shown that cannabis can increase your chances of developing psychosis or a psychotic disorder associated with an increased risk for suicide ideation.

Significant Risk Factors for Suicide

One of the most common risk factors for suicide is mental illness, particularly depression and other mood disorders. People who suffer from depression are more likely to have thoughts of suicide. Other mental health conditions such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder can also increase the risk of suicide.

Other significant risk factors include:

  • Substance abuse: The misuse of drugs and alcohol can exacerbate existing mental health issues or create new ones, potentially leading to suicidal thoughts.
  • Previous suicide attempts: A history of suicide attempts increases the risk of future attempts.
  • Family history of suicide: Having a close relative who has died by suicide can significantly increase a person’s risk.
  • Traumatic experiences: Experiencing trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse, violence, or the death of a loved one, can lead to an increased risk of suicide.
  • Chronic pain or illness: Living with chronic pain or a severe medical condition can contribute to feelings of hopelessness and increase the likelihood of suicidal thoughts.
  • Social isolation: A lack of social support and feelings of loneliness can increase the risk of suicide.

Do Mental Health Disorders Lead to Substance Abuse & Suicide?

The link between mental health disorders and substance abuse is complex but clear: individuals suffering from mental health issues may turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to dull their symptoms without seeking professional help from a doctor or therapist. This often leads to complications such as physical dependence, worsening symptoms, and increasing risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors if left untreated for too long.

Prolonged use of drugs or alcohol can cause changes to the brain, leading to mental health issues and further increasing the chance you may try to harm yourself. Under these circumstances, the best course of action is to enroll in a treatment program designed specifically for dual-diagnosis cases where you will simultaneously receive treatment for both conditions.

How Relationships & Support Systems Affected by Substance Use Can Lead to Depression

Substance use can harm relationships with friends and family members. Those you care about may distance themselves because your behavior is disruptive or dangerous, creating chaos in their lives. Becoming estranged from those who were once closest to you can make you feel lonely and drop you into a state of depression.

Your substance use may also affect your job performance and, by extension, your financial security. Job loss can increase stress and feelings of isolation and loneliness, intensifying depression symptoms.

If you are using substances, you may not be able to participate in activities that would normally bring them joy or provide a sense of purpose. This lack of meaningful activity can also contribute to depression symptoms.

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How Stigma of Substance Use & Treatment Impacts Suicide Rates

Society often views individuals with SUDs as weak, immoral, or lacking self-control. This harmful perception can lead to isolation, discrimination, and reluctance to seek help for fear of judgment or ridicule. As a result, those struggling with SUDs may experience worsening mental health, increasing their risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that individuals with SUDs who also experienced internalized stigma were more likely to have suicidal thoughts and a history of suicide attempts. This finding underscores the importance of addressing stigma as a crucial aspect of suicide prevention among individuals with substance use disorders.

Research shows that individuals with a mental health disorder and an SUD, known as dual diagnosis, are at an even higher risk of suicide. A study in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry revealed that among those with a dual diagnosis, the risk of suicide attempts was 10-14 times higher than in individuals without any psychiatric or substance use disorder.

Signs Someone May Be at High Risk for Suicide Ideation

It is important to be aware of signs that someone may be at high risk for suicide ideation so that you can intervene if necessary. Some warning signs include:

  • Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself.
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness or having no reason to live.
  • Exhibiting extreme mood swings.
  • Withdrawing from social activities and isolating oneself.
  • Giving away personal belongings or planning for after their death.
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Changes in sleep patterns, appetite, or appearance.
  • Making a plan (such as buying a gun).

If you notice any warning signs, it is important to get help immediately by calling 911 or contacting your local crisis hotline (in the US, call 1-800-273-TALK).

Treatment of Suicidal Thoughts & Mental Health Disorders in Addiction Treatment

The best way to treat both suicidal thoughts and underlying mental health disorders associated with addiction is through comprehensive treatment programs that address both issues simultaneously. These programs should include evidence-based treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication management when appropriate.

It is important for individuals struggling with SUDs who are also at high risk for suicide ideation to receive ongoing monitoring from trained professionals familiar with their individual needs so that any warning signs can be addressed quickly before they become more serious.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, taking them seriously and seeking immediate help is essential. Reach out to a mental health professional, a helpline, or a trusted friend or family member.

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The best and safest way to treat a dual diagnosis of mental health and substance use disorders is with the help of experienced, trusted professionals like those at Guardian Recovery. We provide comprehensive treatment, including medically-assisted detox, psychiatric assessment, therapy, specialty programs, and reintegration support. Our caring and skilled administrative, medical, and clinical teams will guide you through every step of your recovery process from the first time you call. We provide a complimentary assessment and a free insurance benefits check and help coordinate local travel to our facility. All you have to do is ask; we will take care of the rest. Contact us today.

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  1. https://www.hhs.gov/answers/mental-health-and-substance-abuse/does-alcohol-increase-risk-of-suicide/
  2. https://ascpjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13722-020-0181-1
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1932152/
  4. https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma16-4935.pdf
  5. https://www.ncbi
  6. https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma16-4935.pdf
  7. https://ascpjournal
  8. https://www.samhsa.gov/
  9. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/substance-use-and-mental-health
  10. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/addictions/substance-abuse-and-mental-health.htm

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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