Substance Abuse And Suicide: Everything You Need To Know

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She lined up syringes full of heroin on the sink at a friend’s house. She started injecting. Needle after needle punctured her skin until she found herself on the cold bathroom floor. She had been addicted to heroin for more than three years when she hit that bathroom floor. She had prostituted herself and stolen from her own mother to fund her addiction. And she was angry. Because, when she hit that bathroom floor, she knew she wasn’t dead. And what she wanted in that moment was to “be out,” to be dead. Because death would be far easier and far less painful than being addicted to heroin. Suicide and drug addiction should not be underestimated as it can happen to anyone.

The problem of suicide and drug addiction has reached epidemic proportions. Since 1999, the number of suicides in the United States has been on the rise, and researchers believe that drug use may be a contributing factor. Drug addiction increases the likelihood that an individual will commit suicide, and drugs of abuse can be used to carry out a suicide attempt. Here is what you need to know about suicide and drug addiction.

How Big of a Problem is Suicide and Drug Addiction?

  • A study performed by Wilcox and others in 2004 found that rates of suicide among illicit drug users were 10 to 14 times higher than rates of suicide in the general population.
  • Nearly a quarter of a million emergency department admissions in 2011 were for individuals with substance use disorders who had attempted suicide. These types of suicides increased between 2004 and 2011 by 41%.
  • In 2014, SAMHSA released a report citing that suicide was “the leading cause of death” among those battling drug addiction.
  • A study performed by Hallgren and others in 2017 found that rates of suicidal idealization and suicide attempts were significantly higher for individuals with substance use disorder.
  • According to a report released by the Trust for America’s Health and Well Being Trust, “deaths from drugs, alcohol and suicide could account for 1.6 million fatalities over the coming decade (2016 to 2025).”

Who Commits Drug-Related Suicides?

  • In general, men are more likely to commit suicide than women. However, suicide and drug addiction are more likely to affect women.
  • Those affected by suicide and drug addiction are often characterized as aggressive and impulsive. They often also have inadequate social support and a negative outlook on life.
  • Individuals who suffered abuse in the past are at high risk for drug-related suicide.
  • Individuals who suffer from depression are more likely to be victims of drug-related suicide. In addition, certain addictive substances can induce depressive symptoms and thus increase the likelihood that an individual will commit suicide.
  • People who have a history of suicide attempts and/or a recent history of having thoughts about committing suicide are at risk for drug-related suicide.
  • Suicide and drug addiction often affect individuals who achieved a low level of education, are unemployed, and/or struggle with financial issues.

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Most Commonly Abused Drugs in Suicide and Drug Addiction Cases

  • In 2004, Wilcox and others found that individuals using opioids and combinations of intravenous drugs were at the highest risk for suicide.
  • Braden and others found that opioid-related suicides in the United States doubled between 1999 and 2014. The researchers observed that this increase in suicides paralleled an increase in prescribing opioids for pain management.
  • In a study of over 120,000 veterans published in 2016, Illgen and others found that patients receiving higher doses of prescription opioids for pain management were at higher risk for suicide.
  • A study conducted by Ashrafioun and others in 2017 showed that misuse of opioids increases the likelihood that an individual will have thoughts about committing suicide and attempt suicide.
  • An increasing number of individuals over the age of 60 are using prescription opioids with the intent to commit suicide.
  • Researchers postulate that opioids increase the risk for suicidal ideation and suicide attempts because opioids make individuals less inhibited and more likely to act on impulse. In addition, opioids are associated with inducing and exacerbating depressive symptoms, which increase an individual’s risk for suicide.

Overdose or Suicide?

  • A study by Tadros and others in 2015 evaluated emergency department admissions in the United States from 2006 to 2011 for individuals suffering from opioid poisoning. The researchers found that 26.5% of these admissions were for “intentional” opioid poisoning. However, for 20% of these admissions, researchers could not determine whether the individuals had accidentally overdosed or had attempted suicide using opioids.
  • In an interview in 2018, Dr. Maria Oquendo, former president of the American Psychiatric Association, estimated that 25% to 45% of what are classified as “drug overdoses” may actually be drug-related suicides.
  • Research has shown that suicides tend to be underreported on death certificates. In addition, most studies on drug poisoning do not make the distinction between whether deaths resulted from accidental overdose or from intentional suicide. It is no wonder, then, that it is so difficult to determine just how many individuals are victims of drug overdoses or victims of suicide and drug addiction.

Finding Solutions for Suicide and Drug Addiction

The number of individuals affected by suicide and drug addiction is staggering. The pain and hopelessness that affects these individuals is unimaginable. However, we cannot allow the statistics that we see to overwhelm us into inaction. Each of us can work towards solutions to our nation’s problem with suicide and drug addiction.

  • At the public health level, more research must be conducted to understand this epidemic. More accurate ways of documenting and tracking drug-related suicides must be devised so that all of us can understand the problem of suicide and drug addiction more fully. In addition, healthcare providers should work toward screening individuals with substance abuse disorder for depression and other mental health issues. Only when we know whether a person battling addiction is at risk for suicide can we get the person the specialized care that he or she needs.
  • At the community level, everyone from first responders to faith leaders should get educated about the issue of drug-related suicides. Know the signs of addiction, know the risk factors for suicide, and know what resources exist in your community to help prevent an addict from taking his or her own life.
  • At the individual level, work with your primary care physician in a partnership. If opioids are prescribed to you for pain management, ask your doctor if they are necessary or if you have other options for treatment. If you or someone you know has mental health issues such as depression or PTSD, discuss these issues with your doctor before you fill a prescription for Vicodin or Oxycontin. Diseases like depression place an individual at risk for suicide; adding opioids to the mix can actually increase the individual’s risk for taking his or her own life.

If you or someone you know is battling addiction, know that your story does not have to end in suicide. There is hope, and there is help for those suffering from suicide and drug addiction.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance use disorder, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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