Addiction and Suicide: How Do I Get Help for Myself or My Loved One?
Addiction and suicide are closely linked. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that over 20 percent of suicide deaths each year are connected to opiates, and 22 percent involve alcohol misuse. Meth, cocaine, and even marijuana use are also closely connected to self-harm and suicide deaths.
If you or your loved one are battling addiction and/or suicidal thoughts, you already know how they can affect each other; but you may not know that help is out there and that you’re not alone. Learn how to help yourself or a person you care about overcome suicidal thoughts and reach out for the help they need.
How and Why Are Addiction and Suicide Connected?
There are many reasons why someone who is struggling with addiction may contemplate suicide, including but not limited to:
Impaired Judgment in the Moment
Even someone who may not think about suicide when they’re sober can very easily fall victim to suicidal thoughts and actions when they’re intoxicated. A study from the University of Michigan, among many others, indicated acute alcohol intoxication itself may act as a trigger for suicidal thoughts and attempts among individuals at risk and may influence the potential lethality of the suicide attempt.
This study specifically found that over two-thirds of the respondents reported that their most serious suicide attempt occurred during a period of heavy drinking.
Impaired judgment caused by drinking and drug use can make hopeless thoughts even worse and cause people to do something they can’t take back or may not even think about when they’re sober.
They’re Too Tired to Keep Fighting
Alcohol and drug addiction take an increasingly large physical and emotional toll. People can struggle with addiction for years without ever getting the help they need and wind up losing everything in the process. They may experience:
- Worsening Physical and Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms
- Family Estrangement and/or Abandonment
- Job Loss and Economic Hardship, Including Homelessness
- Serious Chronic Disease
- Legal Issues and Incarceration
Simply put, addiction can slowly rob people of the will to live, and, without proper help and intervention, they sometimes convince themselves that life isn’t worth it—they’re wrong.
Worsening Mental Illness
Addiction and mental illness have a toxic symbiotic relationship. On the one hand, mental health issues can lead to self-medication; on the other, the changes in brain chemistry brought on by persistent substance use can make mental health issues like depression and anxiety worse and even cause new conditions. These changes can include anything from worsening depression or anxiety to acute stages of hallucination and psychosis for which they may need hospitalization.
Recognizing the Signs of Suicide in Yourself or Your Loved One
Usually, a lot has to happen, both in a person’s mind and in their life, before desperation rises to the level of suicide. Along the way, they exhibit warning signs that they’re contemplating taking their own lives. These signs and behaviors gradually escalate and often include:
- Talking about Suicide (This can mean anything from veiled references to more detailed descriptions, including how they would do it, what their funeral would be like, and to whom they would leave their belongings).
- Talking about Feeling Hopeless and Having No Reason to Live
- Feeling Like a Burden to Others
- Feeling Trapped or Feeling Like They’re in Unbearable Pain
- Increased Substance Use
- Searching for and Obtaining Means of Committing Suicide
- Suicide-Related Online Searches
- Isolation from Friends and Loved Ones
- Abandonment of Obligations and Social Activities
- Not Enough or Too Much Sleep
- Giving Away Belongings and Saying Goodbye
There are different layers to suicidal behavior, which can escalate very quickly. It’s never worth the gamble to think that someone is “just bluffing” or “crying out for help”. Once you feel yourself slipping into suicidal thinking or suspect that others are doing the same, it’s imperative that you act immediately. The process and mindset of helping yourself, however, can be quite different from helping someone else.
Helping Yourself Overcome Suicidal Thoughts
If you’re having thoughts of suicide, it’s critically important that you reach out to someone else and tell them what you’re feeling. This not only helps you access lifesaving resources, but it can also “take you out of your head” and give voice to the urgency of your situation. If you’re uncomfortable reaching out to a friend or loved one, there are many resources available:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-8255
- Crisis Text Line – Text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor for free, 24/7
- TrevorLifeline for LGBTQ+ Crisis and Suicide – 1-866-488-7386
- Trans Lifeline – 1-877-565-8860 (United States), 1-877-330-6366 (Canada)
Your state will also have counseling and resources if you’re feeling vulnerable. Some states have help for specialized populations, like parents, teens, and the elderly.
Helping Someone Else Overcome Suicidal Impulses
If you think your loved one is contemplating suicide, take the following steps:
- Talk to them in private.
- Assess their risk level and let them know you’re concerned.
- Tell them you care about them.
- Remind them they are loved and valued.
- Reinforce the good things in their life.
- Validate their struggles and let them know you want to help them.
- Encourage them to seek treatment or contact their doctor or therapist.
Assume that you are the only person they’re reaching out to and, above all, ALWAYS TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY. Stay with them and call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 until the situation de-escalates. Then take them to an ER or a mental health services provider. If they’re resistant, keep trying. Tell them that you just want to make sure they’re OK.
Long-term planning should include helping them find an experienced and qualified mental health professional if they don’t already have one and checking in with them often to assess their mental health. This is especially important in cases of addiction and suicide attempts.
Recovery Unplugged Is Ready to Help You or Your Loved One
For someone going through addiction and suicidal thoughts, it’s imperative that they get help for both their substance use and the mental health issues that are triggering the urges to take their own life. Recovery Unplugged offers dual-diagnosis treatment programs to help you or your loved one get help for co-occurring substance use and mental illness. We offer inpatient, outpatient, and virtual programs and are in-network with most major insurances. Contact our admissions staff today at 800 55-REHAB to get the help you need. You don’t have to face this alone.
This article was last reviewed and updated on 5-4-2022.