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Suicide: One of Addiction’s Hidden Risks

4 minute read

If you’ve ever considered suicide, you may know the first-hand struggle of feeling depressed and helpless. Similarly, if you’ve lost someone to suicide, you understand the anguish and confusion people experience when a loved one commits suicide.

Suicide continues to remain an ongoing epidemic in the United States. Today, it is the tenth leading cause of death. On average, there are 132 suicides per day, and that number doesn’t account for the attempts people make.

There is no doubt that suicide is a complex issue. Many factors trigger suicidal ideation, including drug use. For some people, substance abuse and suicide go hand-in-hand.

What Is the Connection Between Substance Abuse and Suicide?

Substance use represents a serious risk factor for suicide attempts. Compared to the general population, research shows that people struggling with addiction are 10 to 14 times more likely to die from suicide. Nearly a quarter of suicides involve alcohol intoxication, and opiates are present in 20% of suicide deaths.

The reasons for committing suicide vary. Many people struggling with addiction feel immense guilt, shame, sadness, and anger towards themselves. They also often:

  • Feel uncertain about whether they can live without substances
  • Feel like they are doomed to make bad decisions.
  • Self-harm
  • Have poor impulse control
  • Struggle with low self-esteem and self-worth
  • Have medical, legal, or financial issues that can trigger feelings of hopelessness
  • Deal with co-occurring mental health issues, like depression or anxiety
  • Have unresolved trauma
  • Struggle with impaired judgment

Certain risk factors, like previous suicidal behavior or a family history of suicide, can increase someone’s likelihood of making an attempt. Research suggests 90% of people who die by suicide have one or more psychiatric disorders. The risk of suicide increases more with the presence of both a psychiatric disorder and a substance use disorder.

Not everyone with addiction struggles with suicidal thoughts. But many people who struggle with suicidal thoughts have problems with drugs or alcohol.

How Do You Know If Someone You Love Is at Risk of Suicide?

Sometimes people with suicidal thoughts discuss their struggles openly. But it’s also very common for them to withhold their feelings. It’s important to understand the common warning signs of suicide. They include:

  • Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves (even jokingly)
  • Talking about feeling trapped, hopeless, or purposeless
  • Acting increasingly anxious, agitated, or reckless
  • Displaying irritation and rage
  • Exhibiting extreme mood swings on a routine basis
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Using more alcohol or drugs
  • Talking about feeling like a burden to others

That said, not everyone displays these common risk factors. Unfortunately, suicide can happen without warning. Some people can be extremely guarded or secretive about their feelings. They may not want to burden others with their struggles.

What Steps Should You Take If You Are Struggling?

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. Even though the pain may feel unbearable, feelings pass. Things can get better. With time, support, and resources, you can find more meaning in life.

Make a Safety Plan

If you struggle with recurrent suicidal thoughts or depression, a safety plan can help you take care of yourself. These plans are meant to be made before you’re in an acute crisis. If you make an attempt and recover from it, a safety plan can help you if thoughts arise again.

Safety plans are written plans that identify the steps you will take if you struggle with suicidal thoughts. These plans serve as excellent references for when you’re in immediate distress. A safety plan should include coping skills for how you can manage your emotions. It should also include contact information for trusted friends or family as well as a doctor or therapist.

Delay the Urge

Even if you’re experiencing tremendous pain, commit to distancing yourself from your intended action. For example, give yourself a week to revisit your thoughts. By refusing to take immediate action, you gain ownership over your emotions.

If you are struggling with depression and/or suicidal thoughts,

please know that you do not have to continue to feel this way.

Hope and treatment is available.

Make Your Surroundings Safe

Remove any weapons, pills, knives, or razors. For your safety, please make sure they are inaccessible for the next few days. It is a good idea to give these items to someone you trust. You can also contact a loved one to remove them for you.

Reach Out to Your Support

Even if it doesn’t seem like anyone cares, people want to help you during this vulnerable time. Refer to your safety plan and reach out to your trusted contacts. Do it immediately, even if it feels scary or embarrassing. By sharing your feelings with someone, you’re choosing to keep fighting.

Seek Addiction Treatment

Drugs and alcohol can exacerbate suicidal thoughts. Professional treatment is often the first step toward recovery. Your treatment team will also provide you with support for managing difficult emotions.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or 911

If you have an immediate plan to harm yourself, it’s imperative to reach out for support right away. Calling 1-800-273-8255 will connect you to trained crisis counselors via a 24/7 hotline. This support is free and confidential. You can also speak with a crisis counselor through their online chat lifeline. Additionally, you can call 911 or visit your local emergency room anytime you need to.

Suicide is a serious and devastating issue. Addiction can complicate and increase suicidal behavior. At Footprints to Recovery, we can help you work through managing these challenging emotions. We believe everyone deserves the chance to heal. Contact us today to learn more about our process.


David Szarka
Medically Reviewed by David Szarka, MA, LCADC
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