When a loved one is addicted, it’s natural to worry about losing them. The biggest worry is typically about addiction, but there’s also a strong link between addiction and suicide.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and it may be a larger problem for addicts than most people realize. In fact, addicts are six times more likely to take their own lives than non-addicts.
Alcoholism and suicide
Anyone who suffers from addiction is more likely to commit suicide, but alcoholics are even more prone to taking their lives than other addicts. You might think that a diagnosis of depression or a psychiatric disorder would be the greatest predictor of suicide. You’d be wrong. It’s actually alcoholism.
A Journal of Affective Disorders study found that alcoholism was the only characteristic that accurately predicted eventual suicide. Alcoholics were more than five times more likely to commit suicide than other groups.
The role of mental health in addiction
One possible reason for the link between addiction and suicide is mental health. Even though the statistics show that addiction is a greater predictor of suicide, we must understand that many mental health issues go undiagnosed.
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) tells us that mental health disorder patients are responsible for consuming 69 percent of alcohol, 84 percent of cocaine, and 68 percent of cigarettes.
It’s clear that a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse is common, but which comes first? The answer could be both, depending on the case.
Self-medication – Many people with diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues self-medicate to relieve their symptoms. They may self-medicate because it’s easier or cheaper (in the absence of insurance). Think of the person with social anxiety who pre-games before a party. They feel like they need the alcohol to put them at ease enough to talk to people. People also commonly self-medicate with marijuana, cocaine, opioids and study drugs like Ritalin and Adderall.
Addiction side effects – Addiction and recovery have many side effects, and depression is a big one. It’s no surprise that alcoholism is a strong predictor of suicide because alcohol is a depressant. Not only do people self-medicate with alcohol, but alcohol can worsen or even cause depression on a long-term basis. A study published in the journal Addiction found that alcohol abuse is more likely to cause major depression than the other way around. And again, alcohol isn’t the only substance of abuse that could lead to depression. Depression and anxiety are common symptoms of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). This stage of withdrawal occurs after the physical symptoms of withdrawal subside, and depression can be intense.
What if my loved one is addicted?
If someone you love is struggling with alcoholism or another type of addiction, it’s important to address the problem. They must want help, but you can talk to them about starting the process.
Here are a few tips to start the conversation:
- Don’t judge – Check any judgments you may have at the door. Your friend or family member will respond better if he or she feels that you’re coming from a place of understanding instead of judgment.
- Show compassion – Let your loved one know that you’re there for them through it all. You aren’t going to enable them, but you’ll be there for whenever they decide to get help.
- Research rehabs – Find out where your loved one can go for treatment. If you suspect he or she has a mental illness, find a center that has the resources to manage both addiction and mental illness simultaneously.
- Don’t delay – With every day that passes, addiction tightens its grasp on your loved one. Every day, it gets harder for the person to detox from the drugs. Recovery has to be their decision, but you can start encouraging him or her to get help as soon as you’re aware of a problem.
Losing your loved one is just about the scariest thought in the world. When your loved one is addicted, losing them through overdose or suicide seems like more of a reality. So, if you or someone you love is struggling with mental illness or addiction, talk to a professional about getting treatment.