How are Addiction, Depression and Suicide Linked?

Depression is the leading risk factor for suicide, alcohol and drug abuse.

Depression is the leading risk factor for suicide, alcohol and drug abuse.

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When a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, the situation creates a lot of worry and fear. At the forefront of those concerns are the possibilities of serious accidents or overdoses. However, another prevalent and all-too-common issue associated with addiction is the risk of suicide.

Despite the fact that suicide is a well-documented risk among people with mental health disorders, studies have also shown suicide shares a dangerous and undeniable link with the disease of addiction.

A Look at the Numbers

While depression and other mood disorders are the number-one risk factor for suicide, alcohol and drug abuse – even without…depression – are ranked a close second.

According to SAMHSA, suicide kills more than 39,000 people a year in the United States. That’s an average of 108 suicides each day. Additional data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveals suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with addicts being six times more likely to take their own lives.

While depression and other mood disorders are the number-one risk factor for suicide, alcohol and drug abuse – even without the diagnosis of depression – are ranked a close second. In fact, research has shown that the strongest predictor of suicide is not a psychiatric diagnosis – but alcoholism.

Addiction not only increases the likelihood a person will take his or her own life, the disease itself is used as a method of committing suicide. According to data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in three people who die from suicide are under the influence of drugs – typically opiates (oxycodone or heroin) or alcohol. Poisoning is the third-leading method used in suicide deaths and drugs make up 75 percent of suicide deaths caused by poisoning.

The Role of Mental Health

News of Robin Williams’ suicide has placed the link between depression and addiction in the spotlight. In the past, the actor spoke candidly about his struggles with clinical depression and addiction, along with his ongoing treatment efforts. With addicts having a rate of depression that is three to four times higher than the general public, treatment for both disorders is essential.

Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, president of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, says, “If you only treat the depression without treating the chemical dependency, you won’t be successful in really helping the person.”

If you only treat the depression without treating the chemical dependency, you won’t be successful in really helping the person.-Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein

The National Institute on Health’s Epidemiologic Catchment Area study found a third of people who die by suicide have a substance abuse disorder, along with a diagnosable mental illness. What’s more, the study found that alcoholic men have rates of depression that are three times higher than the general population; alcohol dependent women had four times the rates of depression.

Related: The Cultural Delusion We Are Conquering Mental Illness

Addiction and Suicide

Substance abuse problems contribute to suicidal behavior in several ways. For example, the risk of alcoholics eventually committing suicide is over five times greater than that of non-alcoholics. In fact, data shows that alcoholism is directly linked to approximately 50 percent of all suicides. What’s more, when intoxicated or experiencing withdrawal, addicts become more impulsive, making them more likely to attempt suicide and perhaps less likely to ask for help.

Fortunately, there are a number of effective prevention efforts that reduce risk for substance abuse in youth, and there are effective treatments for alcohol and substance use problems. Researchers are currently testing treatments specifically for persons with substance abuse problems who are also suicidal, or have attempted suicide in the past.

Taking Action to Prevent Suicide

  • If a loved one is threatening, talking about, or making specific plans for suicide, the situation requires immediate attention. Do not leave the person alone or postpone seeking help.
  • Remove firearms, drugs, or sharp objects that might be used for self-harm.
  • Take your loved one to a psychiatric hospital or a emergency room.
  • If these options are not available, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for assistance.

Learn more about your options for alcohol and drug addiction treatment

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What Are Your Thoughts on this Topic?

  • Susan

    The dual diagnosis of mental illness and addiction including alcoholism is so disturbing. My son committed Suicide after about three years trying to cope with mental illness that was diagnosed as schizophrenia,or bipolar or delusional disorder depending on the time of evaluation. He turned to drugs and alcohol. He started drinking in high school and this always concerned me because he drank excessively and his personality would change. What came first? The mental illness or the addictions? I guess it doesn’t matter now.