A Hidden Risk of Addiction: Suicide
Those who care for individuals who suffer from addiction are constantly concerned that addiction will take their loved one’s life. They fear news of a serious accident or of an overdose.1 However, few realize that suicide is also something to fear.1 Suicide is a well-known risk for those who suffer from mental health disorders, and is important in the assessment and treatment of addiction.1
While depression and other mood disorders are the number one risk factor for suicide, alcohol and drug abuse are a close second.1 Individuals with a substance use disorder are six times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.1 Approximately one in three people who die from suicide are under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time.1
When individuals are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, they lose inhibitions and take risks that they normally would not.1 Also, many abuse substances to attempt to self-medicate their symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders.1 In the short term, individuals feel as though the substances help them; however, their symptoms only exacerbate over time.1 Then, when attempting to stop using, individuals are overwhelmed with the return of painful emotions that had been masked by the substances.1 At this time, they may be able to carry out suicidal thoughts and plans, and if in a transitional period in life—treatment, relapse, death, divorce, etc.—they are extremely vulnerable.1
The suicide rate among patients with untreated substance use disorders is as high as 45 percent; however, only 11 percent of addicts seek treatment.1 As stigma plays a large role in keeping people from getting help, a lack of training in suicide prevention among professionals contributes to the problem once patients do seek treatment.1
Health care professionals need to ask the difficult questions regarding whether or not the patient has ever considered or attempted suicide, and whether or not they currently still do.1 Patients need to be reassured that they are not alone, and a recovery plan must be set in place, first to assure their safety and then to address the underlying issues.1 Unfortunately, research has shown that many who commit suicide have seen their primary care physician within the year before their death.1 This proves that health care providers often fail to recognize and treat the factors that lead to suicide—factors that can be treated and prevent it.1
Integrated, dual-diagnosis treatment for both substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders by a multidisciplinary team of professionals can help many recover and prevent suicide.1 It is important that all know the hidden risk of addiction is suicide—and that it can be prevented.