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Addiction, Stigma, and Suicide

If you’re at all in the mental health loop, you may already know that September is National Suicide Prevention Month, with a more concentrated Suicide Prevention Week running from Sunday, September 5th until Saturday September 11th. 


But it shouldn’t only be one month out of every year that we feel empowered to start conversations about suicide. Silence only feeds into stigma, and like, the stigma that surrounds substance abuse, the stigma surrounding suicide can prevent people who need help from having the courage to seek it, the fear of judgement stopping them in their tracks. 


First off, it’s important to state that, as the tenth leading cause of death in the USA, suicide is by no means a small problem. And it’s an even bigger problem among people struggling with substances; someone suffering from a substance use disorder is six times more likely to die by suicide than a person who is not. 


One major reason for this is is the high correlation between substance abuse and mental illness, another well-documented risk factor for suicidality. The same depression or anxiety that led someone to self-medicate with substance abuse may also lead them to consider taking their own life.


Then, of course, the problems that active addiction brings with it tends to worsen matters even further. A serious substance abuse problem can lead to relational and professional crises that might serve as triggers for suicidality, and guilt over things done under the influence or in service of one’s addiction can build until an addict reaches a crisis point. 


The isolation that can come with substance dependence can also contribute to suicidality among habitual drug users. As addicts become cut off from their community, whether by withdrawing from family and friends to conceal their illness or pushing them away with unpredictable behavior, their sense of loneliness will likely only increase. 


Overtime, an addict may also develop a sense of hopelessness and despair about their condition, to the extent that giving up on life altogether may begin to look like a better solution than staying only to suffer. 


To worsen matters, most substances of abuse have the effect of lowering someone’s inhibitions, meaning that someone experiencing suicidal thoughts may be more likely to act on them while they are under the influence. 


According to the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services administration, approximately 22 percent of suicide deaths involve alcohol intoxication, 20 percent involve opioid intoxication, 10.2 percent involve marijuana intoxication, 4.6 percent involve cocaine intoxication, and 3.4 percent involve amphetamine intoxication. 


As can be seen from these statistics, depressants seem to be the most highly correlated with suicide, though the research also suggests that being under the influence of multiple substances is correlated with much higher risk than any singular substance on its own. 


The potentially fatal nature of many substances of abuse also means that if someone who is suffering from a substance abuse disorder does decide to take their own life, a lethal weapon that they can use to do so is already at their disposal. 


Some experts believe that up to 30 percent of opioid overdoses may actually be suicides, since, in the absence of a note, intention can be difficult to ascertain. And one study that questioned patients who had sought treatment for opioid overdose found that 39 percent reported wanting to die or not caring if they did, while another 15 percent were unsure of their intentions. Within the fog of substance-induced apathy, perhaps some addicts are not even aware of their suicidality themselves. 


Studies have even suggested that over fifty percent of all suicides are associated with substance dependence and that as many as twenty five percent of alcoholics and drug addicts will eventually commit suicide.


These are admittedly some pretty bleak statistics, but they are by no means hopeless ones. Fittingly enough, September is also National Recovery Month, which makes it a perfect time to remind ourselves of the many hopeful stories of recovery that the darker stories surrounding addiction too often drown out. 


Once someone suffering from addiction seeks help and attains sobriety, their judgement and mood will likely improve as their brain chemistry normalizes. Perhaps with the aid of a professional treatment program, they can then begin to address any underlying conditions and to re-engage in their community and relationships, a process that will likely help them address any suicidal urges as well.


But for people who are still in the midst of their addictions and anyone else who struggles with suicidal thoughts, stigma can be a significant barrier to coming forward. Though few would argue that a completed suicide is a tragedy, someone who discloses suicidal thoughts might be worried about seeming “crazy” or brushed off as attention-seeking. 


But any disclosure of suicidality should always be taken seriously; talking about wanting to die or of feeling hopeless is one of the most common warning signs that someone has the intent to commit. 


And the fact that someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts does not mean that they are selfish, a bad person, or irredeemably beyond help; most suicidal crises are actually fairly brief, and people who are suicidal often report that they do not even really want to “die” so much as to escape their current, unbearable, level of pain. 


Though this may be hard for someone to see while they’re in the heart of a suicidal crisis, there are other ways for them to address this pain than through dying by suicide, and many people who go through suicidal crises or even attempt it are eventually able to find their way towards happy, fulfilling lives. 


But efforts like Live Through This, a site that shares the stories of suicide attempt survivors, are beginning to combat the stigma that shrouds suicidality. And thinking about the issue of suicide reminds us of the importance of challenging the stigma that exists around addiction as well. Making the world a more welcoming place to those who have struggled with substance abuse isn’t just a matter of human decency; it could be the key to saving countless lives. 


For more resources regarding how to recognize and help someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, feel free to visit the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention’s website. And if you find ever find yourself struggling with acute suicidal thoughts yourself, you can always reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 


But if you are looking for help in addressing any type of substance abuse problem, look no further than Reco Intensive. At Reco Intensive, our comprehensive treatment programs and professional staff can help you address your underlying mental health issues as well as connect you to a community of experienced alumni, warding off the isolation in which addiction can thrive. 


Call RECO Intensive at (561) 464-6533 today. Since living with a serious substance abuse problem can amount to a kind of slow suicide in and of itself, there’s no time to waste in getting back on track to a brighter future.

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