Addiction and Suicide: What Is the Link?
When you are addicted to any kind of substance or certain behaviours, there is always the risk of a wide range of dangers to your physical and mental health, so in terms of addiction and suicide – what is the link between the two?
While more commonly, drug and alcohol users are often concerned with the risk of overdose, it can be easy to overlook the psychological-fuelled risks such as suicide.
Find out here how addiction can lead to suicide, what to look out for if you’re worried about others and how specific substances affect the risk of suicide.
How Can Addiction Lead to Increased Risk of Suicide?
There are many reasons why addiction can lead to an increased risk of suicide; the issue is incredibly complex, and it is typically a combination of the following factors that can increase the risk of suicide in those who suffer from addiction.
- Social isolation
- Psychological instability, e.g. shame, anger, fear, guilt and feeling their life is out of control
- Obsession with stimuli associated with addiction
- Getting in trouble with the law
- Negative vocational consequences
- Negative financial consequences
- Negative family consequences
- Sleeping disorders
- Weight loss
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Suicidal ideation
Can Poor Mental Health Influence Addiction & Suicide?
In short, poor mental health can lead to suicide and addiction. Similarly, poor mental health can lead to addiction, leading to suicide.
Substance abuse typically antagonises and exacerbates mental health problems, so it is incredibly dangerous to mix substance abuse or behavioural addictions with existing mental health issues.
So, how does poor mental health contribute to a higher risk of suicide in those who suffer from addiction?
- Self-medicating: If you’re suffering from poor mental health, it might be necessary to use medication. Whether this is prescription drugs or recreational substances, without proper supervision and guidance, it can lead to addiction – particularly in terms of illegal substances.
- Hopelessness: Poor mental health can lead to poor decision-making or a feeling of desperation to get out of that position. That being said, using addiction as an escape and trying to find a way out by using drugs or alcohol can exacerbate mental health issues, increasing the risk of suicidal thoughts.
- Social Isolation: Isolation and loneliness are key drivers of poor mental health, and this can also be a driving force of substance misuse. Not having guidance, care or peers to help you get through dark moments can lead to addiction as the last place to turn. This feeling of helplessness is extremely dangerous, particularly when combined with substance abuse and can induce suicidal thoughts.
Suicide Risks Post-rehab
The journey of recovery never really ends; anybody is susceptible to relapse, and with relapse comes mental health struggles.
Even those who have overcome addiction remain at a heightened risk of committing suicide when compared to the rest of the population, so it is important to know the risks and particular triggers to avoid this better.
This is because it may take some time for the brain to restore to its pre-addiction state, so what can you look out for?
Negative symptoms experienced by those who have suffered from addiction in the past are known as ‘post-acute’ withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms range from depression, anxiety and continued cravings to more serious symptoms, including but not limited to the following:
- Continued cravings for the addiction substance/behaviour
- Mental health problems, e.g. depression, anxiety, etc
- Trauma & grief
- Cognitive distortions
Returning home once treatment is complete can be a scary experience for the recovered and a time when social isolation and depression may occur. Thus, it is important to keep in mind that you, or somebody you may know who has suffered from addiction, are susceptible to these symptoms that can lead to poor mental health and suicide.
Warning Signs of Suicidal Thoughts
If you or a loved one is addicted to drugs/alcohol or certain behaviours, we urge you to be on the lookout for the signs of suicide.
The most common warning sign is the person wishing to ‘end it all’. This person may be open about how he or she plans to carry out the suicide, even if it isn’t seen as completely serious – it could be so take it as their true thoughts.
Familiarise yourself with the information and warning signs below detailing suicide ‘warning signs’ you really should be aware of:
- Communicating an intent to commit suicide
- Active preparation for suicide
- Spending too much time alone
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Abusing substances
- Expressing negative emotions such as hopelessness, grief and depression
- Pessimistic about the future
- Mood swings
How to Help Someone at Risk of Suicide
If you believe your loved one is preparing for suicide, knowing where to start to help can be daunting.
First off, we recommend you confront your loved one regarding his or her intent to commit suicide. If your suspicion is confirmed, we recommend you ask your loved one if he or she has taken any steps to attempt suicide yet.
If you follow this approach, it’s essential you adopt the role of a good listener, ensure your empathy is apparent and try not to be overly emotional but instead be pragmatic.
During this phase, you are essentially information gathering; once you’ve built up a good picture of your loved one’s problems, it’s now important to recruit the help of other family members and close friends.
If the suicide is due to substance abuse or a behavioural addiction, the sufferer will likely require professional treatment. This treatment typically takes place on a residential basis, within a professional, caring environment for around 4-12 weeks.
During this time, your loved one will receive a number of therapies designed to tackle substance abuse and co-occurring mental health problems, including treatment for suicidal ideation.
Once the person has overcome his or her addiction and suicidal ideation, it’s essential you frequently check in on their progress because suicidal ideation is known to rebound following treatment. Ensure you visit your loved one regularly and make frequent telephone check-ins.
Ultimately, ensure that you have a good circle around you, or if you’re worried about somebody else, ensure you’re doing everything you can to be there for them.
Specific Addictions Linked to Suicide
We now outline the risk factors associated with a number of addictions; while any addiction can induce suicidal thoughts, these are the most common addictions we see in rehab and how they relate to suicide – including an addiction to alcohol, cannabis, opiates and cocaine.
#1 Alcoholism (Alcohol Addiction)
Alcohol is perhaps the most well-known drug that’s associated with suicide.
Alcohol addiction causes a number of negative conditions in the sufferer’s lifestyle. These conditions cause a number of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, that significantly increase the risk of suicide.
There is a significant link between alcohol intake and suicidal attempts or completions within those that have been researched; in fact, studies have “found a wide range of alcohol-positive cases for both completed suicide (10–69%) and suicide attempts (10–73%).”
#2 Cocaine Addiction
A recent study demonstrated a strong link between mixing cocaine/alcohol and suicidal ideation.
The study examined 874 cases of attempted suicide treated at US hospitals. The data shows when alcohol is mixed with cocaine, there’s a corresponding increased risk of the user attempting suicide.
#3 Cannabis Addiction
Unfortunately, there exists a link between long-term cannabis use and suicide.
This is mainly because cannabis is known to antagonise existing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, plus, long-term cannabis use is known to cause psychosis.
Furthermore, cannabis use may also decrease the quality of the sufferer’s lifestyle by causing money, relationships and career problems. Thus, cannabis may indirectly increase the risk of suicide.
#4 Heroin Addiction
There is a powerful link between heroin use and suicide.
Heroin is an extremely potent drug, and its use depreciates every aspect of the user’s lifestyle, including finances, relationships, job prospects, mental health and physical health.
Many of those addicted to heroin understand the sheer toll this addiction can take; it can quickly turn into the most important thing in their life. That being said, not being able to obtain heroin can lead to suicide by simply not being able to live without it.
It can also be easy to overdose on heroin, meaning suicide by heroin is also a commonality.
Get Help Today…
If you need help dealing with suicidal thoughts, don’t hesitate to get help.
If you’re in a crisis, you can call 999. Don’t forget that numerous helpline services for free; aside from the aforementioned, you can head over to the NHS webpage here that details all of the help in the UK for those suffering from suicidal thoughts.
If you’re suffering from addiction, which is acting as a driving force for your or somebody else’s suicidal thoughts, rehab may be the best next step. Get in touch with us at Ocean Recovery to find out how one of our residential rehab treatment programmes can help you overcome your addiction on 0800 880 7596 today.
John Gillen - Author - Last updated: October 10, 2023
John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.
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