Addiction or heavy substance use is common in people who die from suicide

Authored by Dr. Shradha Shejekar, Consultant Psychiatry, Aster RV Hospital

An estimated 703,000 people a year take their life around the world. For every suicide, there are likely 20 other people attempting suicide and many more having serious thoughts of suicide. Millions of people suffer intense grief or are afflicted by suicidal behaviors.

Each suicidal death is a serious public health concern having consequences for those around them. By creating greater awareness, eliminating stigma around suicide, and inspiring constructive action, we can reduce suicides around the world.

World Suicide Prevention Day was established in 2003 by the International Association for Suicide Prevention in conjunction with the World Health Organization. The 10th of September each year focuses attention on the issue, reduces stigma and enhances awareness among organizations, government, and the public, with the central message that suicide can be prevented.

Addiction and suicide

Addiction to alcohol or drugs increases risk of suicide. People who have drug and alcohol addiction are up to 14 times more likely to die by suicide than others. If you or a loved experience substance use disorder, you should be aware that it is strongly linked to suicide and should get help to prevent it.

The connection between alcohol and drugs and suicidal thinking and behavior is both causal and conductive. A state of hopelessness is key to the disposition to actual suicides and alcohol and drugs give rise to hopelessness by their toxic effects, by influencing neurotransmitters responsible for mood and judgement and by disruption of interpersonal relationships and social supports. A good grasp of the use of alcohol and drug use and dependence is important in the proper assessment of suicide.

According to studies, over fifty percent of all suicides are associated with alcohol and drug dependence and at least 25% of alcoholics and drug addicts commit suicide. Over 70% of adolescent suicides may be complicated by drug and alcohol use and dependence. Given that alcoholism and drug addiction are important risk factors for suicidal behavior and suicide, an alcoholic or drug addict should be assessed for suicide in case the intensity of use of alcohol and drug is high.

Alcohol and drug abuse are second to depression and other mood disorders as risk factors for suicidal behavior. Alcohol and some drugs bring about a loss of inhibition, enhance impulsive behavior, lead to changes in the brain that result in depression over time, and can be disruptive to relationships— resulting in loss of social connection and alienation.

Addiction or heavy substance use is common in people who die from suicide. Here are some facts:

  • Heavy drinkers are five times more likely to die by suicide than occasional social drinkers.
  • In more than 1 in 5 suicides, the person had a lot of alcohol in their system at the time.
  • Suicides related to opioids, or narcotic painkillers, have doubled in recent years.
  • About 1 in 5 people who commit suicide use prescription opioids or heroin.
  • Many people who commit suicide use marijuana, cocaine, or amphetamines

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