Suicide And Substance Abuse Linked

suicideSuicide is a problem that affects people of all ages, backgrounds, cultures and circumstances, however, it is important to be aware that certain populations are especially at risk. In fact, the two most significant risk factors for suicide are mental illness and substance abuse.

While mental health concerns are frequently addressed in the prevention of suicide, substance abuse disorders are often ignored, but the connection is undeniably strong. People who have been diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder are nearly six times as likely to report having attempted suicide in the past. Substance abuse disorders increase the likelihood of completed suicide by 2.3 times for men, and a shocking 6.5 times for women.

Such statistics make the complicated struggles of those with addictions acutely apparent. Often, a great deal of blame is placed on individuals who abuse drugs and alcohol. Their problems are trivialized with simple solutions. They are asked to quit as if it was an obvious, easy choice. However, asking someone to simply stop using a substance they are addicted to is like asking them to jump out of an airplane without a parachute. Physical addiction and withdrawals aside, many times the drugs are serving a purpose in the person’s life that we don’t understand. Opioids could be the best tool they’ve found to cope with extreme anxiety. Amphetamines might seem like effective self-medication for depression. Binge drinking may be the only way they can distract themselves from intrusive traumatic memories. You get the point.

Worsening these problems is the oft-employed tactic of trying to “guilt” someone into getting clean. We remind those in the midst of a substance abuse disorder of the horrific affects of their addiction on their family, friends, careers, etc. The intent is clear — motivate the addicted individual to make changes for all the above reasons. However, simply making these types of statements serves to worsen the sense of failure, depression, and guilt that many of these individuals are using drugs and alcohol to escape.

So what can we do to help?

Understanding that individuals who are dealing with substance abuse struggles are simply doing the best they can with the circumstances in their lives is hugely important. If they knew a way to live their lives better, they would be doing it. This is why encouraging people to receive help with their mental health, as well as their addiction, is so very important.
Psychotherapy assists individuals in developing new, helpful perspectives and abilities to help fill the holes that drugs and alcohol have in the past. Problem solving, conflict resolution, and other interpersonal skills can help people deal with relationships that may seem overwhelming or difficult to manage. Learning how to tolerate stress or negative emotions, as well as changing painful thoughts that provoke them, can lessen a person’s need to mask these feelings with substances.

To find professionals who can help from both the mental health and substance abuse aspect, go to

February 27, 2015


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