Suicide & Substance Abuse

young woman at the beach with knees drawn up to her chest very distraught - suicideAccording to the CDC, suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States. There were 45,979 deaths as a result of suicide in 2020—the equivalent of about one death every 11 minutes.

Many factors affect a person’s suicide risk, including poverty, childhood trauma, bullying, and a family history of suicide. However, one risk factor that is often overlooked is substance abuse.

Substance Abuse Worsens Depression Symptoms

Depression is the most common mental health disorder in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 21 million adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2020.

People who are suffering from depression often turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate the symptoms of their condition. While being under the influence can provide temporary relief, substance abuse does more harm than good in the long run. As a person develops a tolerance for the abused substance, they start to become physically dependent on it and experience withdrawal symptoms when they are unable to use. Over time, substance abuse causes changes in brain chemistry that increase depression-related symptoms. For example, alcohol interferes with the release of several neurotransmitters that are linked to mood regulation, including serotonin and norepinephrine.

Substance Abuse Impairs Judgment

People who are under the influence of addictive substances are prone to risky and irrational behavior. This impaired judgment can lead to suicide when a person lacks the ability to rationally process a situation. For example, someone who is drinking or getting high after the breakup of a romantic relationship may start to feel as though they’ll never find love again instead of recognizing that the relationship just wasn’t the right “fit” for their current circumstances. This catastrophizing is a cognitive distortion that can make an active attempt at self-harm seem reasonable in the heat of the moment.

Public health experts also believe that many overdoses are actually unrecognized suicides. A person who is experiencing an emotional crisis may take a higher-than-normal dose of a drug in an attempt to stop their pain. They may be actively wishing to end their life, indifferent to the possibility of death, or simply playing a version of Russian roulette. (It is a common misconception that suicide must involve a note, as recent studies have found that as many as 80% of those who die by suicide do not leave a note behind.)

Substance Abuse Causes Social Isolation

Addiction can cause people to do things that are hurtful to others:

  • Skipping social commitments to spend more time using
  • Breaking promises
  • Lying about substance use
  • Stealing to fund an addiction
  • Becoming physically aggressive during an argument

Over time, it’s common for addiction-related behaviors to cause estrangement with friends and family. Some people may cease contact out of anger and a desire for self-preservation. Others may be setting boundaries on what behaviors they’re willing to tolerate to avoid enabling the addiction.

Social isolation is one of the most significant risk factors for suicide. People who do not believe that they can discuss how they are feeling with others are more likely to engage in self-harm.

Some experts believe the link between social isolation and suicide is a key reason why suicide rates are highest among men. Due to societal expectations regarding traditional gender roles, women often have stronger social connections to friends, family, and the community at large when compared to their male counterparts.

Help Is Available

Although there is a strong link between substance abuse and suicide, there are many support resources available to help people get the mental health care they need. With the right treatment, a person struggling with substance abuse and suicidal thoughts can build a brighter future.

If you are in immediate danger of self-harm, call 911. In the emergency room, a mental health crisis professional will evaluate you to determine what level of care you need. They’ll ask questions such as if you have a plan for self-harm, what issues are going on in your life, if you’ve previously been hospitalized, and what medications you are taking.

If you are not in immediate danger, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. This number is answered 24/7 and provides free, confidential support for people in distress as well as connections to crisis resources. (If you are worried about a friend or family member, this number can also provide guidance to help you determine the best way to help your loved one.)

St. Joseph Institute for Addiction Is Ready to Support Your Recovery

Typically, healthcare professionals will recommend that a person struggling with substance abuse and suicidal thoughts enter a residential addiction treatment program with the capacity to treat co-occurring mental health disorders. At St. Joseph Institute for Addiction, we provide care that is personalized to fit individual needs and focuses on providing clients with the tools they need to lead a wellness-focused lifestyle. Our substance abuse treatment center is located in the rolling mountains of central Pennsylvania with a resort-like setting that includes log and stone lodges, a library, gym, wellness center, lounges, chapel, recreation areas, and miles of walking trails. Contact us today to learn more about how our program can help you heal your mind, body, and spirit.

Looking for an addiction treatment center in Pennsylvania? To learn more about SJI Pennsylvania addiction rehab, and our programs, please contact us at (888) 352-3297.