Suicide: One Of Addiction’s Many Associated Risks


If you’ve ever considered suicide, you may be able to understand what it feels like to find yourself feeling depressed, helpless and desperate for relief, unfortunately this is when suicide becomes an appealing option to get that relief.

Similarly, if you’ve lost someone to suicide, you understand the anguish and confusion people experience when a loved one takes their own life.

Unfortunately when a drug or alcohol addiction becomes involved as well, the whole situation becomes a lot more complicated and will require professional help from doctors and psychotherapists to overcome these horrible, unbearable and crippling symptoms that those who experience suicidal thoughts often feel.

Suicide continues to remain an ongoing epidemic in the United Kingdom and around the world as a whole. Today, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death, with someone taking their own life every 90 minutes in the UK, wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. However that figure doesn’t include or account for the attempts people make which are unsuccessful or halted by the person or those around them. For example if they attempt to overdose and then call 999 afterwards once they regret what they’ve done, or maybe they may prepare for it and then back out or change their mind before actually taking the overdose.

There is no doubt that suicide is a complex issue. Many factors trigger suicidal ideation, including drug and alcohol use. For some people, substance addiction and suicide go hand-in-hand as many addicts have comorbid conditions, further complicating the treatment required to overcome the addiction and also complicating the many reasons why addicts may consider or attempt suicide.

What’s The Connection Between Addiction & 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 depending on a wide variety of factors. Many people struggling with an addiction feel immense guilt, shame, sadness, and anger towards themselves. They also often:

  1. Feel uncertain about whether they can live without substances or feel that stopping is impossible and never going to happen.
  2. Feel like they are doomed to make bad decisions and thy they will continue making even worse choices in the future.
  3. Self-harm by cutting, burning and other methods.
  4. Have poor or no impulse control at all.
  5. Struggle with low self-esteem and self-worth.
  6. Have medical, legal, or financial issues that can trigger feelings of hopelessness, anxiety and further shame and guilt.
  7. Deal with co-occurring mental health issues, like depression or anxiety
  8. Have unresolved trauma, abuse or adverse childhood experiences.
  9. Struggle with impaired judgment, especially when drunk or high.

Certain risk factors, like previous suicidal behaviour or a family history of mental health issues or attempted/achieved suicide, can increase someone’s likelihood of making an attempt themselves. 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 mental health diagnosis and a substance use disorder.

Not everyone with an 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’s At Risk Of Suicide?

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

  • Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves or having thoughts or feelings that make suicide a possibility (even jokingly).
  • Talking about feeling trapped, hopeless, or purposeless.
  • Acting increasingly anxious, agitated, or reckless.
  • Displaying irritation and rage.
  • Exhibiting extreme mood swings or being constantly down, sad or depressed on a routine basis.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs or having developed or at risk of developing an addiction.
  • Talking about feeling like a burden to others that would be relieved if they were no longer alive.

That said, not everyone displays these common risk factors. Unfortunately, suicide can happen without any warning signs being displayed. Some people can be extremely guarded or secretive about their feelings. They may not want to burden others with their struggles and feel that suicide would release them or others from those struggles.

What Steps Can I Take If I’m Struggling With Suicidal Thoughts Or Feelings?

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or feelings, you’re not alone. Even though the emotional or physical pain may feel unbearable, these feelings WILL pass. Things can get better with enough time, seeking and using the right support, and using the right resources when needed.

1) Make A Safety Plan

If you struggle with recurrent suicidal thoughts or depression, a safety plan can help you take care and control of yourself. These are similar to those used for addictions. These plans are meant to be made before you’re in an acute crisis and each one is unique to suit the needs and requirements of that particular person person. If you make an attempt and recover from it, a safety plan, similar to a relapse prevention plan, can help you if thoughts or feelings arise again. You can find an example safety plan template here.

Safety plans are written plans that identify the steps you will take if you find yourself in a position where you’re wanting to act on the thoughts and feelings of suicide, or cannot cope with the suicidal thoughts. These plans serve as an excellent reference for when you’re in an immediate crisis. 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, therapist, charity or crisis hotline number such as the Samaritans.

2) Delay The Urge

Even if you’re experiencing tremendous pain, thoughts or feelings, commit to distancing yourself from your intended action. For example, give yourself a week to revisit your thoughts and see how you feel then. If it’s still the same, do it over again as many times as needed. By refusing to take immediate action, you gain ownership over your emotions.

Remember that thoughts are just that, thoughts. They remain only thoughts which cannot harm you for as long as you don’t physically act on them, and they will fade away with time.

Don’t suffer in silence alone. Help is available if you’re currently struggling with thoughts or feelings of suicide.

Dave Richens, Psychotherapist, Thinking Therapies

3) Make Your Surroundings Safe

Remove any weapons, medications, knives, razors or anything else that you could or would use when self harming or preparing to commit suicide. For your own safety, make sure they are inaccessible for the next few days after the thoughts occur as you may experience more than one episode in a row before the thoughts and feelings settle down again. You can find other tips to prepare your environment better for addiction and suicide here.

It’s a good idea to give these items to someone you trust. You can also contact a loved one to remove them for you. If you need to take medication regularly but feel like you may attempt to overdose on them, give them to someone else and ask them to only give you the dose you need at the times of day you need to take them, and to keep them locked away for the rest of the time.

4) Reach Out To Your Support Network

Even if you feel like no one else cares, people do want to help you during this vulnerable and possibly scary time. Refer to your safety plan and reach out to your trusted contacts. Do it immediately, even if it feels scary, embarrassing or like you may be bothering or disturbing someone else. By speaking out and sharing your feelings with someone, you’re choosing to keep fighting and choosing to receive help instead of attempting suicide.

5) Seek Addiction Treatment Straight Away

Drugs and alcohol will 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. Seeking out therapy by trained and experienced experts is also an important step towards overcoming your current mental health challenges. Your GP may also be able to provide you with medications, or diagnose you with a particular mental health condition which may have been exacerbating or causing the current feelings, thoughts or emotions you experience.

Call the Samaritans Hotline or 999 Immediately If You’re Currently Thinking About Acting On Your Thoughts Or Feelings

If you have an immediate plan to harm yourself or commit suicide, it’s imperative you reach out for support now, this second. Calling 116123 will connect you to trained volunteers at the Samaritans via their 24/7 hotline which is open 365 days a year. This support is free and confidential. Additionally, you can call 999 or visit your local A&E department anytime you need to.

Suicide is a serious and devastating issue, and addiction can complicate and increase your risk of suicidal behaviours. At Drink ‘n’ Drugs, we can help you work through managing these challenging emotions. We believe everyone deserves the chance to heal. Contact us or sister organisation, Thinking Therapies today to learn more about our process and to begin the road to recovery today.

Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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