It is not uncommon to encounter feelings of depression while in recovery from addiction, but at what point do those feelings become dangerous and require professional help? And how can you tell if someone you care about is suicidal?
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016). Nearly 45,000 people took their own lives in 2016, which was double the number of people killed by homicides. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) also reports that people between the ages of 18-25 have the highest rate of severe suicidal ideations and tendencies.
Suicidal Ideations and Behaviors Among U.S. Adults
What’s more, the rates of death due to suicide only include the number of fatalities and not the attempts. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that two-thirds of people who contemplated suicide in 2014 did not devise an actual plan to commit suicide. Also, most people (8 out of 9) who had thoughts of suicide did not attempt it.
This means the number of adults in the U.S. who are at risk for suicide is significantly higher than the fatalities occurring each year. One of the primary factors that contribute to a person becoming suicidal is major depression. The rate of depression is 2-4 times higher in people who are struggling with substance abuse.
Substance Abuse and Suicide
According to an article in Psychology Today (2014), 1 in 3 people who die from suicide are under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. The most common substances associated with suicide attempts are oxycodone, heroin, and alcohol. These are all depressants and work to lower inhibitions, which, hypothetically, could compel someone who has considered suicide to actually go through with it.
The article goes on to say that the suicide rate among persons with untreated substance use disorders may be as high as 45%—and only about 1 in 10 people with addictions receive treatment. So, when considering how substance abuse increases the risk of suicide, we should also take note of how the stigma and shame that comes with addiction prevents many people from feeling comfortable seeking help.
Feeling hopeless and helpless, many people may find suicide a logical solution to the problem. Depression, substance abuse, and the risk of suicide are all profoundly connected. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that about 90% of the people who take their own lives in the U.S. are suffering from depression, a substance abuse disorder, or a combination of these issues.
Intentional vs. Unintentional Overdoses
Healthline defines overdose as “taking too much of a substance, whether it’s prescription, over-the-counter, legal, or illegal.” Due to the nature of overdose, it’s often difficult to determine if a death was deliberate or unintentional. Coroners can only consider the evidence and put forth an educated guess.
There’s also a grey area between intentional and accidental—it’s called “apathy.” Feelings of apathy are widespread among people who are depressed and/or abuse substances. This feeling of “I don’t care if I live or die,” or throwing caution to the wind when using drugs or alcohol, is more prevalent than many would like to think.
Moreover, a mother who refuses to believe her deceased daughter (by overdose) would deliberately kill herself may only be half right. It could very well be that the daughter didn’t set out to die, but really didn’t care if she lived, either, and therefore, was particularly reckless in her substance abuse.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), unintentional overdoses are those in which a drug, too much of a drug, or the wrong drug was inadvertently consumed. This can occur either by a person’s own volition or during a medical procedure. Incidents of intentional overdoses are associated with evidence of the desire to commit self-harm.
Depression Increases the Risk of Substance Abuse
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) reports that persons who have been diagnosed with a mental health problem at some point in their life consume more than two-thirds (69%) of the alcohol in the U.S. and 84% of the cocaine. The link between depression, anxiety, and other mental and emotional concerns has been well-established in studies.
People with a mental illness that do not receive the appropriate treatment may be more likely to resort to the abuse of substances as a means to escape adverse thoughts and feelings and self-medicate. Often, this attempt to relieve symptoms fails and only serves to exacerbate problems over time, and perpetuates a downward spiral of addiction and misery.
Addiction Recovery and Suicide
Although completing an addiction treatment program is a magnificent accomplishment, people transitioning from a recovery center back into the real world often encounter intense feelings of depression.
Even after weeks or months of sobriety, a moment of tragedy or despair could drive a person to relapse and reignite the belief that their only destiny is death or a life of neverending substance abuse. While being treated in a center, patients have continuous support. When left to their own devices after treatment, feelings of depression can easily develop into suicidal ideations.
What You Can Do
Suicide prevention needs a comprehensive approach, which is best managed under the guidance of professionals.
Common signs of suicide include the following:
- Expressing feelings about wanting to die or to commit suicide
- Looking for a way to commit suicide
- Talking about feeling hopeless, helpless, or having no purpose
- Talking about feeling trapped or experiencing intolerable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the abuse of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing and becoming isolated from others
- Exhibiting rage
- Reacting with extreme mood swings
If you believe your loved one is in danger, you should immediately call 911 or emergency service. If you suspect your loved one is using drugs illicitly or is an alcoholic and is at risk for self-harm, it is best to plan an intervention to stop the vicious cycle before it gets any worse.
Getting Treatment for Suicidal Depression and Addiction
When a person suffers from a substance use disorder and a mental illness such as major depression, this combination of symptoms is referred to as dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Treatment for a dual-diagnosis requires careful planning and an integrated approach, ensuring that both conditions are treated simultaneously.
For example, a treatment plan may include antidepressants to reduce depressive symptoms, as well as medication for the treatment of opioid or alcohol use disorders. Furthermore, research shows that medication is most effective when an individual concurrently receives counseling and behavioral support. Many people find that undergoing intensive treatment is necessary to overcome addiction and learn healthy coping strategies for depression.
Harmony Recovery Center employs a caring team of medical professionals trained to deliver these therapeutic services to clients with compassion and expertise. We are dedicated to helping each individual we can by providing them with the tools, education, and support they so direly need to achieve abstinence, prevent relapse, and experience a long, fulfilling life.
Call us today and discover out how we can help you or a loved one begin the journey to recovery!