Researchers and historical data reveal that a fairly significant percentage of people who die by suicide or who attempt to commit suicide suffer from substance use disorder. In other words, a considerable number of people who die by suicide have an issue with drug abuse or drug addiction. Through this article, we explore the link between substance abuse and addiction and death by suicide.
If you have lost a loved one through a death by suicide, and if you believe or have come to know that your family member of friend abused or was addicted to mind-altering substances, you are well served understanding the connection. This will permit you to begin a journey of understanding and realization. Most importantly, you can better understand that you bear no blame for your loved one’s passing and you can grieve without being wrapped in a web of shame.
A Look at the Stats
The statistics associated with substance abuse and suicide are telling. 18 percent of people who die by suicide are known to have had problems with alcohol abuse or addiction. 16 percent of individuals who die by suicide have problems with other types of addictive substances.
The breakdown of people who tested positive for mind-altering substances after dying by suicide is as follows:
- Alcohol – 38 percent
- Antidepressants – 35 percent
- Benzodiazepines – 31 percent
- Opiates – 27 percent
- Marijuana – 17 percent
- Anticonvulsants – 12 percent
- Antipsychotics – 9 percent
- Muscle relaxers – 8 percent
- Amphetamines – 7 percent
- Cocaine – 6 percent
- Barbiturates – 3 percent
Bear in mind that in a case of a person who abuses or is addicted to drugs dies by suicide, such an individual may have used more than one type of mind-altering substance.
Self-Medicating With Mind-Altering Substances and Suicide
One segment of individuals who die by suicide and had been using mind-altering substances are a cohort of people who use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. The National Institutes of Health define self-medicating with mind-altering substances as:
Self-medicating happens when someone uses drugs or alcohol to alleviate uninvited symptoms or feelings. It may involve abusing prescription medication by taking a higher dose than you are instructed to take, binge drinking, or using illegal drugs. Regardless of the way the substances are used, they must be used with the intention of alleviating an undesired symptom, such as depression, anxiety, or grief.
There are risks inherent in self-medicating with mind-altering substances. The most common of these risks are:
- Taking an incorrect or excessive dosage
- Excessively prolonged use
- Failure to recognize or report adverse reactions
- Developing a drug addiction
- Worsening depression or anxiety
- Allergies or skin problems
- Masking symptoms of serious illnesses
- Harmful interactions with other medications or food
- Accidental overdose and death
As an aside, there are occasions in which an overdose death arising from a self-medication overdose is deemed to be a suicide and vice versa. Therefore, when an individual dies while self-medicating, surviving loved ones may face the added burdened of not fully understanding or perhaps never really knowing the exact manner of death, whether it was a death by suicide or by overdose.
Dual Diagnosis and Suicide
The National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI has succinctly summed up what is meant by dual diagnosis:
As intuitive as the term “dual diagnosis” may seem, it actually doesn’t mean having two mental health conditions. Dual diagnosis (also referred to as a co-occurring disorder) is a term used when someone experiences a mental illness and a substance use disorder simultaneously. Therefore, “dual diagnosis” itself is not a diagnosis, but rather a specific combination of diagnoses.
People laboring under a mental health condition coupled with substance use disorder are at a higher risk of suicide than is the case for individuals with a stand-alone diagnosis. Treating dual diagnosis necessitates treatment for the mental health condition and for the abuse of or addiction to mind-altering substances.
Relationship Between Genetics, Family History, Drug Addiction, and Suicide
A final point of discussion involves genetics, family history, drug addiction, and suicide. Research demonstrates that there appears to be a biological or genetic connection that might make individuals more susceptible to substance use disorder. In addition, individuals who attempt suicide or die by suicide have a higher likelihood of having a family member who attempted to complete suicide than is the case with the public at large.
If you are a survivor of suicide loss, you may want to contemplate engaging the assistance of a therapist or counselor. There are mental health professionals who specialize in working with people who have lost loved ones as a result of death by suicide.
In addition, there are support groups of different types for survivors of suicide. These include therapeutic groups as well as those that are gatherings of people with similar losses akin to other types of support groups.