SUICIDE AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE
Drugs, alcohol and suicide thoughts can be a lethal combination. Increasing evidence points to a connection between suicide, substance abuse and mental disorders, with each condition increasing the risk of the other two. According to suicide statistics in a 2008 white paper published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), up to 90 percent of people who eventually commit suicide experience either mental disorders, substance abuse disorders or both.
Alcohol and Suicide Statistics
SAMHSA resorts that alcohol and suicide attempts are often related, with alcohol present in the bloodstream of up to a third of people who attempt suicide. Furthermore, post-mortem analyses of completed suicides reveal that alcohol intoxication was a factor in up to 25 percent of cases.
Alcohol affects a person’s suicide risk in multiple ways. Alcohol intoxication reduces inhibitions and increases the risk of impulsive or risky acts. Increased impulsivity may increase the risk of self-destructive acts in people who are already suicidal. Also, suicide attempts while under the influence of alcohol tend to involve more lethal methods — such as firearms — that may be tied to alcohol-induced impulsivity.
Alcohol is also capable of worsening feelings of depression and worthlessness, which may contribute to suicide attempts. Alcohol impairs the decision-making process and, in some people, increases aggressive behavior.
Suicide and Drugs
Drug-related suicide attempts are common, though the relationship between suicide and drugs has not been studied as much as the connection between suicide and alcohol. Suicide overdose may involve either medication or illicit street drugs. Drug use carries the risk of overdose, so it is not always clear whether or not an overdose is intentional suicide or accidental.
Like alcohol, drug use can increase impulsivity and risk-taking behavior. SAMHSA reports that the number of substances abused is a more accurate indication of suicide risk than specific types of substance abused.
Suicide, Substance Abuse and Mental Disorders
Depression and substance abuse are both risk factors for suicide. The two disorders are closely related. Depression increases the risk of alcohol and drug abuse and in turn, substance abuse can trigger major depressive episodes.
A dual diagnosis of substance abuse and depression greatly increases the risk of suicide. SAMHSA reports that the combination of alcohol and depression increases the rate of suicide attempts by 12 percent, while the combination of drug abuse and depression raises the figure to almost 20 percent.
People suffering from depression may use substance abuse and alcohol to self-medicate depression symptoms — a strategy that may provide temporary relief but can also result in drug or alcohol dependency and increased tolerance for the substance abused. People suffering from depression combined with substance abuse should be monitored closely for signs of suicide.