By Cristina Utti MA, MFA
According to the World Health Organization, over one million people die by suicide annually.
In the United States alone, over 40,000 people take their own life every year, making it the tenth leading cause of death in our country. That is one American every 12.95 minutes. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention claims 90% of those that die by suicide had a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death. People with depression and other mood disorders are the number one risk, people with addictions coming in second. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has found that roughly 53% of people with substance addictions have one or more severe mental disorders. People with the disease of addiction are at high risk for suicide.
The underlying causes of addiction vary from person to person. Most people start out young, experimenting with substances. As a person uses more often, they build a tolerance, which leads to using more to achieve the desired effect. This is the leeway into addiction. Some people use substances because they are trying to achieve balance within themselves for mood disorders such as depression or anxiety. Using marijuana, alcohol, or other substances may make them feel calmer, or happier, so they self-medicate, never getting to the root of the problem. For many Americans, addiction begins with a prescription from the doctor. Individuals with anxiety may be prescribed benzodiazepines. People that suffer chronic physical pain, or who have undergone surgery are prescribed pain medications, usually opioids. Addiction is a complex disease that originates from a culmination of factors. This is one of the reasons why the holistic philosophy of treating addiction works so well. Holistic therapy treats the whole person, not just the alcohol or drug problem.
When someone we care about is suffering from addiction, we are constantly concerned for their health and well-being.
It is quite ordinary to worry about what mood they will be in, whether they are driving under the influence and may get into a car accident, missing work or school, or suffering a serious overdose. The threat of suicide usually does not enter our mind, but this is a very real, serious risk. There is an undeniable correlation between addiction and suicide. Information from the Center for Disease Control claims addicts are six times more likely to commit suicide than someone who does not suffer from addiction. Alcoholism is directly linked to approximately 50% of all suicides worldwide.
Besides the glaring reason that someone who is high on substances is not in their right mind and at an increase risk of suicide while under the influence, there are other factors as well. As previously mentioned, people with addiction disorders often have co-occurring mood or mental disorders. Someone with depression is at a very high risk for suicide. Depression can be the reason someone gets addicted to drugs, and depression can happen when they are coming off of drugs.
Once a person gets clean, they are not quite in the clear.
People in recovery are also at risk. Once someone admits they have a problem and seeks treatment, the next step is detox, then dealing with all of the feelings that they have been burying with drugs and/or alcohol. Usually by the time someone enters a drug rehabilitation facility, they have made quite a mess of their lives. The first year is crucial in recovery. The recovering person may be overwhelmed with feelings of remorse, shame, guilt, and hopelessness at the mess they have made, and the people that they have hurt, and they no longer have the crutch of substances to deal with all of these emotions. This can be enough to push some people over the edge. It takes at least one full year in sobriety to the mind to clear and to begin to get emotionally healthy.
There may not always be warnings for suicide, but more often, suicide just does not happen out of the blue.
If you are concerned about a loved one, here are some signs not to miss:
- A significant episode of depression or anxiety
- Feelings of self-loathing, worthlessness, guilt, and/or shame
- An illness or medication that changes one’s mood or outlook on life
- A personal crisis, such as divorce or the death of a loved one
- Isolating – not doing the things the person once enjoyed
- Talking about suicide – this should never be taken lightly, if someone is talking about it, then they have already thought about it
- Saying goodbye – unusual calls or visits to say goodbye
- Getting affairs in order- making a will, giving away possessions, etc.
With education and guidance, suicide can be prevented. If you think someone you love is at risk for suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. English and Spanish language speaking counselors are available 24/7. If you have a love one struggling with addiction, or just getting clean, be aware of the signs.