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How SUD and Suicide are Connected

The link between substance use disorder (SUD) and suicide is one of the few widely-held ideas about SUD that is supported by data. As September is National Suicide Prevention Month, now is a good time to understand how SUD and other mental health conditions are linked to suicide risk.

If you or someone you’re close to is contemplating suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. To learn more about drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs that offer trauma-informed care, get in touch with us here at Boston Drug Treatment Centers.

Substance Use Disorder and Suicide

More than half of all suicides are linked to alcohol or drug use disorders, according to the National Institutes of Health.1 To be clear, these are from intentional self-harm, not from accidents, unintended overdoses, or cumulative health effects from long-term substance use.

While alcohol seems to be the one substance most associated with suicide attempts, relatively few published studies break down the specific drugs involved in suicide attempts. One 2004 meta-analysis found that alcohol was involved in 22% of suicide deaths, opioids in 20%, marijuana in 10.2%, cocaine in 4.6%, and amphetamines in 3.4%.2

The same meta-analysis tags opioids and alcohol use as the biggest suicide risks. A person’s risk of suicide increases by 13.5 times when they are a regular heroin user and 10 times if they have an alcohol use disorder.2 It’s difficult to find accurate numbers for opioids specifically, as it can be difficult to distinguish between intentional and unintentional overdoses.

Other Mental Health Conditions and SUD

SUD often co-occurs with other mental health conditions. These comorbid issues can be both a cause and a result of SUD. Certain illnesses are more likely to co-occur with SUD, including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress, all of which raise an individual’s risk of suicide.3,4 

If you, a close family member, or a friend need SUD rehab, it’s important to look for programs that can also address these co-occurring conditions.

What Other Factors Increase Suicide Risk?

The Centers for Disease Control breaks down suicide risks into individual, relationship, communal, and societal factors.5 To be clear, these factors are not necessarily a direct cause of suicide attempts. Rather, they are merely correlated with an elevated risk.

Individual factors include:5

  • Substance use disorder
  • Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, etc.
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Financial problems
  • Lack of socialization
  • Problems with the law
  • Work problems
  • Serious physical illness
  • Aggression or impulsiveness

Relationship factors include:5

  • Childhood trauma
  • Sexual violence
  • Close family members that also committed suicide
  • Relationship issues
  • Familial bullying

Community risks include:5

  • Religious beliefs
  • Culture (i.e., beliefs that suicide can be beneficial for others)
  • Community suicide patterns
  • Lack of access to healthcare

Societal risks include:5

  • A stigma associated with mental illness
  • Access to more lethal means of suicide (e.g., guns, opioid medications)
  • Popular depictions of suicide

How to Talk to Someone With A High Suicide Risk

If you suspect that someone you know is at risk of suicide, here are a few pointers to keep in mind:6

 

1.) Take Suicidal Statements Seriously

Over half of people who attempt suicide signal their intent to others.6 Any statements that show a person is considering it should be taken seriously.

2.) Show Them You Care

Suicidal thoughts are often tied to a person’s feelings of self-worth. Tell the other person you are concerned and are ready to listen. Do not attempt to argue with them or tell them that their actions will hurt others. Tell them that most suicidal thoughts are temporary.6

3.) Try Not To Leave Them Alone

Try to be physically with the person you’re concerned about. Stay with them for as long as you have to. If you see a means that they could use (i.e., you’re in a high-rise building or are aware they have firearms or dangerous drugs), don’t let them out of your sight.

4.) Help Them Find Professional Help

Encourage the other person to get help. If possible, take them to treatment if they’re willing to let you.6

5.) Get Help ASAP

If the person is about to attempt suicide or if they have revealed previous attempts, you should assume that they have an immediate means available.6 Try to get in touch with a mental health professional or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 immediately.

Find Help for SUD and Mental Health Problems

Not only are there links between SUD and suicide, but the presence of drugs or alcohol can also elevate an already vulnerable person’s risks.

If you believe that you or someone you’re close to has a problem with substance misuse, get help immediately. Call Boston Drug Treatment Centers at (617) 517-6448 to find rehab programs that offer dual diagnosis treatment and trauma-informed care.

Resources:

 

  1. Miller, N. S., Mahler, J. C., & Gold, M. S. (1991). Suicide risk associated with drug and alcohol dependenceJournal of addictive diseases10(3), 49-61.

 

  1. Wilcox, H. C., Conner, K. R., & Caine, E. D. (2004). Association of alcohol and drug use disorders and completed suicide: an empirical review of cohort studiesDrug and alcohol dependence76, S11-S19.

 

  1. S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2019, March). Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders.

 

  1. Harris, E. C., & Barraclough, B. (1997). Suicide as an outcome for mental disorders. A meta-analysisBritish journal of psychiatry170(3), 205-228.

 

  1. Centers for Disease Control. (2021). Suicide Prevention: Risk and Protective Factors.

 

  1. Western Michigan University. (2021). How To Help Someone You Know Who Is Suicidal.