Addiction and Suicide: Is There a Link?

The short answer to the title question is yes. Research shows a significant link between substance addiction and the increasing risk of suicidal thoughts, attempts, and completed suicides. Although addiction and suicide are often viewed as separate issues, understanding the connection between the two will help people struggling with one or both of them.

Understanding Addiction as a Mental Health Disorder

Addiction is not a question of character strength or a moral failing. It is a mental health disorder that afflicts countless individuals every year in the United States. Addiction creates a profound dependence on substances like drugs or alcohol characterized by a compulsive urge to use, even when faced with detrimental repercussions. It changes the person’s brain, disrupting their ability to make sound decisions, stifling their resistance to cravings, and changing their behavior. Addiction seizes control, leaving the individual in a constant state of struggle against their continuous urges.

The Role of Mental Illness in Addiction and Suicide

In the web of addiction and suicide, mental illness is at the center. For those struggling with conditions such as depression or anxiety, drugs or alcohol might appear as a tempting escape from the unrelenting grip of these disorders. But self-medication is dangerous and all too often spirals into dependency. 

Likewise, mental illness can be a powerful driving force in pushing someone toward the tragic path of suicide. An untreated or improperly managed mental health disorder can become unbearable, leading some individuals to the heartbreaking conclusion of suicide. Both addiction and suicide, then, can be viewed as desperate responses to mental anguish and pain.

How Addiction Increases Suicide Risk                                    

How does addiction fuel this increased risk of suicide? The answer lies partly in the psychological impact of substance addiction. Regular intake of drugs or alcohol can impair judgment and increase impulsive behavior. Both of these factors heighten suicide risk. Additionally, the harsh realities of withdrawal symptoms can intensify feelings of despair, depression, and hopelessness. Fighting their body’s constant urge for substances is overwhelming for some individuals. 

Addiction and Suicide Statistics and Facts

The following statistics and facts on addiction and suicide are from The American Journal of Psychiatry, MDLinx, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Wiley Online Library, WebMD, Psychology Today, and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

  1. Approximately one-third of people committing death by suicide are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  2. People with a drug or alcohol addiction have an increased risk of 10 – 14 times greater of suicide than people who do not have a substance use disorder.
  3. Drinking alcohol has been associated with a 94% higher risk of suicide.
  4. Compared to social drinkers, people who drink heavily have a five times greater risk of committing suicide.
  5. Heavy or binge drinking, drinking at a young age, or meeting the criteria for severe, moderate, or mild alcohol disorder can lead to an increase in suicidal ideation.
  6. In the last fifteen years, opioid-related suicides have more than doubled.
  7. In recent years, suicides related to narcotic painkillers or opioids have doubled.
  8. More than 1 in 5 people who commit suicide have a great amount of alcohol in their system.
  9. Heroin or prescription opioids are used to commit suicide by approximately 1 in 5 people.
  10. Of the reported substances involved in suicide risk, opioids and alcohol are the highest. 
  11. Alcohol intoxication is involved in approximately 22% of suicide deaths.
  12. In 20% of suicide deaths, opiates are present.

Substance Use as a Means of Suicide

Tragically, addictive substances play a much greater role in suicide than simply being a risk factor – they are often the chosen method. Overdosing is a devastatingly common occurrence, and distinguishing between intentional suicide attempts and accidental overdoses is incredibly challenging. Those contemplating suicide may turn to substances due to their perceived ease, availability, or even as a symbolic representation of their ongoing battle with addiction. 

There is Hope

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, do not give up. There is hope. Addiction is a chronic brain disease that can affect anyone, but it is also treatable. English Mountain Recovery is an addiction treatment facility located in the beautiful Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. Their skilled professionals offer gender-specific treatment services that focus on physical, emotional, and spiritual healing to help you regain control of your life. It is never too late to take the first step towards living a sober life. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.