People who worry about an addicted friend or family member are usually concerned that they may lose their loved one to accidents, overdose or serious illness. However, many don’t consider the powerful correlation between addiction and suicide.
The World Health Organization reports that suicide kills more people than any other form of violence, including homicide, war or terrorists attacks. In the United States, suicide kills more than 39,000 people per year, making it the 10th leading cause of death.
Of course, not all suicides are linked to drugs and alcohol, but according to Psychology Today, people with a substance abuse disorder are six times more likely to commit suicide than a person without a substance abuse problem. The magazine also reports that one in three people who commit suicide are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol often struggle with depression, but they may also be diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder such as bi-polar disorder, anxiety or post-traumatic shock disorder (PTSD). It’s difficult to say if the mental disorder contributed to the addiction or if the addiction triggered the mental disorder, but there’s no doubt that addiction leads to difficult, depressing life changes such as loss of jobs, broken relationships, health concerns and financial and legal difficulties.
If you are concerned that somebody you care about may be considering suicide, be aware of the following warning signs:
- Loss of interest in activities that are usually enjoyable
- Giving away belongings or saying goodbye
- Reckless behavior or agitation
- Frequent crying
- Episodes of rage or angry outbursts
- Speaking of revenge
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Problems at school or work
- Difficulty with memory or concentration
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Talk about feelings of hopelessness, guilt or being a burden to others
- Openly saying that they will kill themselves
Keep in mind that suicidal people may not seek treatment on their own, often because they don’t want to tell anybody, or because they feel weak or ashamed. They may feel helpless and believe that nothing will make the painful thoughts and feelings go away. Often, they want help but they are afraid, confused, and don’t know where to turn. If you notice any warning signs or you just have a strong feeling that a loved one may be in trouble, take action immediately:
- Speak openly about the intention of suicide; it often helps to defuse the situation.
- Ask them how they would want to kill themselves, again, this can help to explore and calm the situation, it is much more helpful to speak about suicide than trying to ignore the possibility that it might happen.
- Never leave the suicidal person alone, even for a minute, call for help.
- Remove guns, knives, or other objects the person may use to commit self-harm.
- Remove all harmful medications, even if prescribed by a physician
- Be alert when the person drives away (suicide by car accident) or intends to jump from a high building or bridge.
- Take the person to a psychiatric hospital or emergency room, or call emergency medical providers.
There is help and hope for people struggling with addiction and suicidal thoughts. Various types of therapy and counseling can help people learn new ways to navigate through life’s difficulties without turning to drugs and alcohol.