Addiction and suicide are two issues that have the power to completely destroy and forever alter people’s lives. Because of their severity they have lasting effects not just on one specific individual but for all those who have a relationship with the individual. Through the years research has determined a clear connection between the two; suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S, obviously depression and mood disorders are major influencing factors but the second leading cause of suicide is alcohol and drug abuse.
The figures for both these issues highlight the prevalence and magnitude with 2.5 million Americans addicted to a substance and 30,000 Americans committing suicide every year. The destructive nature of addiction creates a situation where addicts are isolated, excluded and ostracized from family and friends. Such circumstances bring about loneliness, stress, and often depression which over a prolonged period can result in suicide. People with the disease of addiction suffer greatly; their behaviour is often totally uncontrollable and their actions as a result damaging to themselves and others. They experience guilt and self loathing and feel utterly trapped often totally consumed by their addiction. The hold a substance can have on an individual makes them feel they cannot break free and this desperation and associated feelings of hopelessness can sadly result in ending one’s life, being able to see no other alternative. This is increasingly true for addicts who have had several failed attempts at recovery, they may feel they have tried and failed so many times that there is truly no other option available to them.
Addiction as a disease is also extremely unpredictable and leaves victims vulnerable, diminishing their capacity and ability to think rationally. About one in three people who die through suicide are under the influence of drugs, the most common being opiates, heroin or alcohol. Use of such drugs leads to impulsive and self destructive behaviour, reducing an individual’s inhibitions and increasing their risk taking behaviour. Another danger is that often addicts are not fully aware of the potency of the drug they’re consuming, in such cases overdose and accidental suicide occur.
The connection is also evident when we consider the relationship between addiction and mental health. As already mentioned suicide in the main occurs as a result of poor mental health, this does not isolate the issue however as many addicts have mental health problems. Some are addicts due to self medication of a mental health issue and some develop mental health difficulties as a result of their addiction and drug abuse. Addiction and poor mental health are clearly related with the rate of major depression two to four times higher among addicts compared to the general population.
The use, abuse and addiction to alcohol and drugs often creates highly negative social circumstances. On some level the dysfunction, turmoil and negativity experienced every day means that many addicts are always suicidal. Sometimes the prospect of not using any more is so terrifying and seems so impossible that ending it all completely can be in the back of many addicts minds. The reality is that the disease of addiction is too painful, soul destroying and mentally draining to not generate suicidal thoughts.
The are huge challenges in working with addicts who may be suicidal. up to 40% of patients seeking treatment for substance dependence report a history of suicide attempts. Despite this there is limited knowledge in addressing the two problems simultaneously and effectively. Many treatment facilities will not facilitate an individual who has recently attempted suicide. This is alarming as the rate of suicide among people with untreated addiction is 45%. Considering the dangers of addiction, not alone suicide, it is also concerning that only 11% of addicts actually get treatment. Addressing both issues requires a dual diagnosis assessing mental health and determining potential illness or disorders in addition to the individual’s addiction. There are a number of medications and therapies used in dual diagnosis treatment, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy which have proven effective in reducing the risk of suicide during treatment. The key is to seek treatment and begin to overcome the many demons present when suffering from addiction, while also tackling any mental health problems being experienced. While mental health problems and suicide are a reality for addicts, it is not a definitive conclusion and most definitely does not have to be the final outcome. Recovery and sobriety are also a reality and with the right treatment and commitment a healthy and happy life is more than possible.