Substance use disorder can increase the risk of suicide. Many of the negative consequences of untreated substance use disorder – including overdose, disease, trauma, or legal and financial issues – can too easily push a person to contemplate or act on thoughts of self-harm and suicide. This is often an impulsive action while under the influence. Even when substance use disorder is being treated, it is very easy to overlook suicide risk factors while focusing specifically on the substance use. It is very important, especially in the early stages of treatment and recovery, to be mindful of risks and signs of suicidal thoughts. In early recovery and withdrawal, there are often feelings of shame, guilt, and hopelessnes. These emotions can easily move to thoughts of self-harm and must be addressed.
The correlation between substance use and suicide is often very hard to measure, in large part because of their overlapping risk factors and co-occurrence with mental health disorders. People suffering from mood disorders such as depression, high anxiety, or ADHD can be prone to turn to substance use to self-medicate or escape from their own thoughts. Substance use disorder can also be the cause of mental health disorders. When a person has issues with both substance use and mental health, they can easily be driven to isolate themselves to escape their feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and shame. In that mindset and under the influence of substances that lessen inhibition and heighten negative emotions, impulsive actions of self-harm and suicide can occur very quickly.
Some of the shared risk factors for suicide and substance use disorder are family history of addiction or suicide, personal history, stress, trauma, abuse, poverty, and isolation. These factors can both lead to substance use disorder or be results of it. No matter which direction that causal relationship goes, they can also lead to suicidal thoughts and self-harm. If you know someone who suffers from substance use disorder and starts to isolate themselves or starts to talk about suicide, even if they are portraying it as a joke, be very aware of their risks. If they are in crisis or if they need someone to talk to, immediately contact the local crisis hotline at 800-332-4224 or 319-362-2174.
When you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, it is important to remember the risks of depression, isolation, negative emotions, and suicide. Seek treatment for substance use with professionals who know what to look for and know how to help in all facets of treatment and recovery. There are people who can help, remember that you are never alone.
By: Cody Crawford, Certified Prevention Specialist