Is there a correlation between substance abuse and suicide?

As of October 26, 2107, the opioid addiction crisis is officially a nationwide public health emergency. This epidemic is one that touches too many households, and it’s time to have more serious conversations about its impact.

Quote from author Trevor McDonald.
Quote from author Trevor McDonald.

When you love someone with an addiction, you’re in constant fear for their safety. Every time the phone rings, you worry that it’s the police calling about a fatal accident or overdose. Suicide may not be a top-of-mind concern, but maybe it should be.

One study shows that alcoholism is the strongest predictor of suicide – it even ranks above psychiatric diagnosis.

Another study shows that people with a substance abuse disorder are nearly six times more likely to report a suicide attempt than those without a substance abuse disorder. Rates of actual suicide are also higher in this group. Addicted men are two to three times more likely to die by suicide, and women who are addicted are 6.5 to 9 times more likely to take their own life than women who aren’t addicted.

There is a definite correlation between substance abuse and suicide.

How to help a loved one who is struggling with substance abuse

If someone you love is struggling with addiction, there are a few things you can do to help. You may feel powerless, but that’s not the case.

Here are some tips for handling the situation:

1.    Evaluate your loved one’s condition: If you think your loved one is suicidal, get professional help immediately. Understand that someone with an addiction is more likely to follow through on suicidal thoughts, so time is truly of the essence. If your friend or family member has a plan for their suicide, call a local helpline right away. This is a high-risk situation, and the suicidal plans take priority over recovering from addiction. Safety is paramount. If your loved one has an addiction problem and no actual plans for suicide, try to get him or her into a rehabilitation program.

2.    Talk to your family member about the problem: Coming from a place of compassion and understanding, let your loved one know that you are there to help. You are there for him or her now and will still be there throughout the recovery process. Talk about a plan for recovery that includes counseling to help overcome any deep-seeded issues.

3.    Research rehab facilities: You can decide together whether an inpatient or outpatient program is best for your loved one. Either way, the plan you choose should span more than 30 days. Acute withdrawal can be difficult and last days to weeks, but post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) can last for months. Symptoms of PAWS may include anxiety and depression. If your family member is already having suicidal thoughts, this can be a dangerous time. You’ll want professional help to get him or her through safely.

Addiction and suicide do have a strong correlation. If someone you love is struggling with addiction and suicidal thoughts, take this very seriously. Look for the following warning signs:

– Suicide talk: People who attempt suicide often give warning by talking about it first. This may not be as obvious as hearing someone say, “I’m going to take my own life,” but you may hear things like:

  • “I wish I was never born.”
  • “If you ever see me again…”
  • “I’d be better off dead.”
  • Or just a simple “goodbye.”

– Self-destructive behavior: In addition to substance abuse, the person may start taking unnecessary risks like engaging in risky sexual behavior or driving recklessly.

– Withdrawing: Withdrawal can be a symptom of substance abuse, so this one can be tricky to spot, but if your loved one begins to withdraw more, it could be a sign that he or she is contemplating suicide.

– Getting affairs in order: You may notice this person making a will or giving away belongings. This person may talk about what they’d want you to do “in case” they weren’t around anymore.

If someone you love has plans for suicide or is exhibiting worrying behavior, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or your local helpline right away. – By Trevor McDonald