Substance Abuse + Suicidal Ideation = a Bad Relationship
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 48,344 Americans died by suicide in 2018, and 90% of people who die in this manner suffer from depression, have a substance abuse disorder, or both. As devastating as these statistics are, research into the nexus between the two has increased over the past several years. This allows for more educational resources and treatment to be available, and to hopefully help prevent suicides in the future.
Depression and addiction are often symptomatic of one another. A person who is depressed may turn to substances to cope with those feelings, and become addicted. Once an addiction is in full force (though it should be noted that high functioning addicts and alcoholics do exist), it often leads to lower quality of life, lack of support systems, financial problems, employment difficulties, homelessness, etc., which can make a person depressed if they weren’t to begin with. Eventually, the negative feelings brought on by losses in one’s life become more severe can lead to harder drugs or more frequent use. It is a snowball effect that often spins out of control.
Depression ↔ Addiction
The relief a person might have sought from a substance eventually becomes less and less. It becomes stressful to keep up with and maintain, and often leads to compromising one’s own morals and integrity. Their substance use can also impair judgment, weaken impulse control, interrupt neurotransmitter pathways, etc. All of these factors can increase the likelihood of suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts). This can be:
- Active Suicidal Ideation: thinking about committing suicide and planning to do it
- Passive Suicidal Ideation: when one wishes they were dead or that they would die but does not have a plan formed to carry it out
While both are very scary and seem quite different, it can be hard to differentiate between the two. Moreover, if a person is using substances, their behavior and words can be unpredictable and misleading. Because substances have so much control over the mind, if they are feeling good in one moment and decide to, for example, drink some vodka, they can immediately become suicidal (or what appears to be) in a short amount of time.
The Effect of Substances on a Suicidal Person
Different types of substances impact people in different ways, but recent studies have suggested that certain substances are more likely to cause certain suicidal behaviors. Alcohol, for example, lowers inhibitions, which can push a person over the edge if they were feeling depressed to begin with. If they had a passing thought to hurt themselves when sober, it may come to them again when intoxicated and they may feel brave enough to act on it. It can bring on extreme impulsivity and can also cause problems in familial or romantic relationships, which can also impact a person’s behavior and actions.
On the other hand, opiates are the leading cause of overdose deaths, which makes it difficult to know if it could have began as an intentional suicide, or if it was accidental. The more important thing is to assess the person’s safety, and to consult professional, medical help as soon as you deem necessary. The many dynamic factors involved in both depression and substance use can contribute to their potential suicide risk, and so it is certainly worth seeking outside help.
What to Look For
There are other signs to look out that may be less obvious than verbalized suicide ideation.
- Isolating themselves from friends and family
- Discussion of suicide or death
- Giving away material possessions
- Increasingly heavy substance use, disregard for the amount used
- Abandoning hobbies
- Reckless behavior
Identifying these early on can help prevent suicide and help the person get the help they need. The next steps are to work with the individual if they are willing to consider treatment. Luckily, there are options available for comorbidity disorder, which is often called dual diagnosis. This often includes:
- Medical detox
- Psychiatric evaluation and diagnosis
- Treatment plan
- Medication management
- Group therapy
- Relapse prevention
- Aftercare planning
This treatment will focus on both the addiction and the depression as well as any other underlying mental issues that are causing the suicidal ideations. Ideally, the person can be treated for both and go on to live a happy and healthy life.
We are happy to help discuss your concerns, whether they be about yourself or a loved one. It is a difficult decision to ask for help, or to approach a loved one you are concerned about. Many of our Admissions counselors have been through addiction and are now in recovery themselves, which is why they know what you’re going through. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us today.