Drug use and addiction can have severe consequences, including health complications, problems with the legal system, job loss and difficulty carrying out personal responsibilities. In some cases, suicide and drug use can also be related. For example, people who are struggling with a mental illness like depression may use drugs to self-medicate, putting them at an increased risk of suicide.
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Suicide Statistics & Trends
Suicide statistics can help provide insight into the relationship between drug use and suicide rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 47,000 people lost their lives to suicide in 2017. This makes it the 10th-leading cause of death overall in the United States. CDC statistics show it is a common cause of death among the multiple age groups:
- Ages 15-24: Second-leading cause of death
- Ages 25-34: Second-leading cause of death
- Ages 35-44: Fourth-leading cause of death
- Ages 45-54: Fourth-leading cause of death
Suicide is an increasing problem in the United States, according to the CDC.
- From 2001 to 2017, the suicide rate rose from 10.7 to 14 suicides per 100,000 people, which is a 31% increase.
- Suicide is significantly more common among men, who are almost four times more likely to fall victim to suicide.
- Among both men and women, the suicide rate is highest for non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaskan Natives and non-Hispanic Whites.
CDC data only refers to cases in which a person suffered death as a result of intentional self-harming behavior. In addition to those who commit suicide, some people think about suicide or attempt suicide unsuccessfully. The CDC reports that 9.8 million Americans aged 18 and over seriously considered committing suicide during 2017, and 2.8 million developed a plan for suicide. Additionally, 1.3 million adults attempted suicide — among this group, one million had created a suicide plan.
Risk Factors For Suicide
Numerous factors can increase the risk of suicide, including substance use. A recent analysis shows that people who have a substance use disorder are 2.04 times more likely to think about suicide, 2.49 times more likely to attempt it and 1.49 times more likely to die from it. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, people who abuse drugs and alcohol tend to display several risk factors that can increase suicide risk:
- Difficulties with social functioning
- Financial issues
- High-risk behavior
Alcohol abuse may be a particular risk factor for suicide. Among alcohol-related deaths that are not the result of a motor vehicle accident, over 20% are due to suicide. A person who is having suicidal thoughts may lose inhibitions while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This can result in impulsive behaviors that may cause them to act out on suicidal ideation and suicide plans.
Suicide Rates & Co-Occurring Conditions
Co-occurring mental health conditions can be responsible for the elevated suicide rates seen in people who struggle with drug use. Experts report that depression is a major co-occurring disorder that contributes to suicidal behavior among people who abuse drugs and alcohol. A review of the research shows that anxiety and depression are likely to co-occur with both drug and alcohol abuse.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, other co-occurring conditions can increase the risk of suicide:
- Bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder is defined by specific mood episodes on opposite poles of the mood spectrum: “manic,” or elevated, and depressed. These mood episodes come with many additional symptoms beyond changes in mood, including altered cognition, sleep and behavior. Learn more about bipolar disorder.
Schizophrenia is a psychosis, a type of mental illness characterized by distortions in thinking, perception, emotions, language, sense of self, and behavior. Learn more about schizophrenia.
- Conduct disorder
A conduct disorder is defined as a continual pattern of aggression toward others as well as intentional rule-breaking behavior. Conduct disorder is also a childhood disorder, like oppositional defiant disorder. The DSM-5 characterizes a conduct disorder as a condition where a child intentionally violates rules and the rights of others. Learn more about disruptive behavior disorders.
- Traumatic brain injury
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs around 1.7 million times every year in the United States. Almost 80 percent of the people who endure a TBI are treated and released from hospital emergency departments. An unknown number of Americans experience TBI, but do not seek medical treatment.
Traumatic brain injury and addiction are linked in several ways. For one thing, addiction raises a person’s risk of TBI due to impaired reflexes and judgment. Learn more about TBI.
Personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder are also associated with suicide. These disorders can further increase the risk of suicide among people who abuse drugs. One study found that borderline personality disorder tended to co-occur with alcohol, cocaine and opioid abuse.
Substance Addiction & Mental Health Treatment
People who are suffering from an addiction and a co-occurring mental health condition should seek addiction and mental health treatment. These programs can help them recover, develop coping strategies and reduce the risk of suicide. With effective treatment, people can heal and protect themselves from devastating consequences like suicide.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), psychological therapies can be effective in treating co-occurring substance use disorders and mental health conditions. Effective therapies and programs may include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches people to replace unhelpful thoughts and behaviors with more rational, balanced ways of thinking or behaving. During cognitive behavioral therapy, people are asked to focus on their thoughts, beliefs and attitudes and understand how these relate to problematic behaviors. By working through this process, a person can learn healthy ways to deal with difficult emotions and challenging life situations.
CBT can help someone lead a happy, fulfilling life by changing the way they think and behave. Learn more about CBT.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) can help people to overcome drug use and self-harm. This treatment method helps people deal with difficult emotions and reduce struggles in their relationships by teaching them various coping skills in four main areas including mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness. Learn more about DBT.
- Assertive community treatment
Assertive community treatment (ACT) can help people with severe mental health conditions to improve their day-to-day life.
- Contingency management programs
Contingency management programs provide rewards and reinforcement to participants. This therapy approach also introduces reinforcement, or rewards, when you meet your goals. The program might withhold rewards or even introduce punishments if patients exhibit undesired behavior.
The concept is simple enough: If a reinforced idea is rewarded, it is more likely to be repeated in the future. This is not a new idea. Similar practices occur in homes, schools and workplaces daily with varying degrees of success. Learn more about contingency management.
In addition, NIDA reports that people with co-occurring substance use disorders and mental illnesses may take medications that help with their symptoms.
If you or a loved one is suffering from an addiction and co-occurring mental illness, The Recovery Village is here to help. Our caring staff members are ready to take your call help you begin the path to recovery. Contact us today to learn about programs that can work well for your situation.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Suicide.” April 2019. Accessed July 26, 2019.
Poorolajal, Jalal; et al. “Substance use disorder and risk of suicide ideation, suicide attempt, and suicide death: a meta-analysis.” Journal of Public Health, October 17, 2016. Accessed July 26, 2019.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Does alcohol and other drug abuse increase the risk for suicide?” May 7, 2008. Accessed July 26, 2019.
Xiong Lai, Harry. “Prevalence of comorbid substance use, anxiety and mood disorders in epidemiological surveys, 1990–2014: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, September 2015. Accessed July 26, 2019.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “Risk factors and warning signs.” 2019. Accessed July 26, 2019.
Carpenter, Ryan, et al. “Comorbidity of Borderline Personality Disorder and Lifetime Substance Use Disorders in a Nationally Representative Sample.” Journal of Personality Disorders, 2016. Accessed July 26, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Comorbidity: Substance use disorders and other mental illnesses.” August 2018. Accessed July 26, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.