The Link Between Drug Use and Teen Suicide


Teenagers often resort to drug use as a cry for help. Underlying psychological factors such as depression are present in a number of these cases. If your teen is using drugs and seems depressed, they may be at risk for suicide. It’s essential you get help now.

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6 min read

Stats and Trends

Young adults can be a suicide risk Suicide doesn’t discriminate. Some children in the United States hurt themselves intentionally as a response to emotional distress. Suicidal thoughts can affect people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, and engaging in drug or alcohol use increases a person’s chances of dying by suicide.

However, suicide is preventable. As a parent, it is important to identify signs of substance use and mental illness in your child to prevent an exacerbation of existing health problems. If addiction or mental health problems are left untreated, your teen’s chances of experiencing suicidal thoughts increases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the U.S.:

  • Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death.
  • In 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans ages 10 or older died by suicide.
  • From 1999 to 2016, suicide rates increase in 49 states.

Among high school students in 2013:

  • 17 percent seriously considered attempting suicide (22.4 percent of females and 11.6 percent of males).
  • 13.6 percent made a plan for how they would attempt suicide.
  • 8 percent attempted suicide one or more times within the previous 12 months.
  • 2.7 percent suffered a serious injury, poisoning or overdose as a result of a suicide attempt.
  • Hispanic students had a higher rate of suicidal thinking, planning and attempts than white and black students.
  • American Indian/Alaska Native adolescents are even more at risk — the suicide rate among these teens is 1.5 times the national average.

A relationship exists between substance use, mental illness and suicidal thoughts. According to the Monitoring the Future survey, 1 in 4 high school seniors used an illicit drug, like heroin, in the past month. Teens are particularly vulnerable to the effects of drugs and alcohol because their brains have not yet finished developing. As a result, they are more likely than adults to experience addiction.

Substance use can cause teens to deal with drastic mood swings and negative emotions that can bring about suicidal thoughts. In 2014, a Colorado teen jumped four stories to his death after consuming an entire marijuana-laced cookie or “edible” — more than five times the average dosage. His death was ruled an accident.

Risk Factors

adolescent depressionAs a parent, you can identify various risks of suicide in your adolescent and attempt to intervene to reduce the risk that they engage in self-harm.

Risk factors for teen suicide, as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include:

  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Family history of suicide
  • Cultural and religious beliefs
  • Being mistreated by family
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Isolation or being cut off from others
  • Local epidemics of suicide
  • Personal loss (e.g. death in the family, a serious break-up)
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Physical illness

Parental factors such as low income, unemployment, poor schooling and divorce increase the risk of suicide in children. A history of substance use or mental illness, whether personally or in the family, also increases the likelihood of suicidal thinking. If mental health problems exist, the inability to access mental health treatment can exacerbate the problem.

Co-Occurring Disorders

co-occurring depressionAccording to one major study, more than 90 percent of young people who intentionally end their lives had been diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder. In cases of dual diagnosis — when a mental disorder co-occurs with an existing substance use disorder — the compounding effects can negatively affect a child.

Mental health disorders — including ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, as well as major depression — can lead to feelings of hopelessness and isolation. Depression (or major depressive disorder) is by far the most common, and around two-thirds of teens who die by suicide are depressed at the time of their death. These disorders can also affect a teen’s physical health, school performance and social interactions, which can compound into risk factors for suicidality.

Young Man in Park with DepressionYou have the ability to identify mental health disorders at an early stage. Some signs are more obvious than others, and it may require some digging around if you believe something is wrong. But the earlier you catch a potential mental illness, the faster you can get the necessary help for your son or daughter. Taking time to understand your teen, finding ways to communicate about drugs, and supporting them through their difficulties can help deter them from damaging thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Does Your Child Need Rehab?

If your child has been dealing with substance addiction and seems depressed, meet with their doctor to discuss the matter. When left untreated, addiction increases the risk of suicide. Take action immediately to keep your child safe.

If you don’t know where to begin, we at TheRecoveryVillage.com can help. Just give us a call. We’re a group of compassionate addiction professionals who have helped many other parents who have been in your situation. We’ve seen teenagers’ lives change forever, often through rehab. Whether you’d like a list of vetted facilities that specialize in treating teen addiction, or you just want to talk, we’re here for you. There’s no cost, no pressure — just help. Call today and start down the path of recovery for your child.

If your child threatens suicide or mentions a desire to die, immediately call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Do not delay.

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Drugs and Suicide
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Drugs and Suicide was last modified: August 27th, 2018 by The Recovery Village