By: Mike Muldoon
5 minute read
The mental strain associated with both addiction and suicide puts people struggling with substance use disorders at a high risk for suicide when compared to non-substance users.
Addiction and suicide are often linked with an additional mental health issue, which is referred to as a dual diagnosis. Addiction used to be (and sometimes still is) thought of as an issue of character or will power, but as specialists learn more, it’s much more similar to a disease.
When treating a substance use disorder, a specialist may find that the disorder in question is associated in some way with another mental health condition. It’s not always clear cut as to which came first. Some people try to use substances as a relief for intense mental health issues while others find depression and anxiety form when experiencing the negative consequences of addiction.
Common Dual Diagnoses
Depending on the mental health of the person before using drugs, any additional disorder could occur alongside addiction, but some are more common than others. Patterns between certain stimulants and depressive disorders are relatively common, for instance: major depressive disorder can often accompany heavy cocaine use. The stratospheric high of drugs like cocaine can lead to a plummeting fall afterword, which strains both emotional and mental health. When struggling with alcohol use disorder, anxiety and panic disorder are common co-occurring illnesses. Problematic alcohol use along with polydrug-use are also associated with schizophrenia.
The discussion of suicide and addiction can’t be held without mentioning overdose deaths. In 2018 over 46,000 people in the US died of drug overdoses. Each of these deaths, whether intentional or not, are suicides. Overdose deaths rose steadily until 2018, which broke the nearly 20 year long growth trend. The national overdose rate declined as more places throughout the US implement comprehensive reform for opioid related issues. Suicide by overdose is one part of the puzzle, but the onset of another mental disorder that leads to suicidal thoughts also poses a risk.
Substance Use Disorders and Mental Strain
Serious enough levels of stress can intensify latent mental health disorders or create new ones. Regardless of whether the co-occurring disorder caused the substance issues or vice versa, the strain of addiction can quickly endanger someone’s mental state leading to an increased risk in suicide.
Issues associated with addiction are far reaching because it’s a disease that touches every aspect of someone’s life. The intensity of these issues is tied to the severity of the substance use disorder, but each of these problems alone could push someone into suicidal thoughts due to the severity of the situation.
The turbulence of uncovering a substance use disorder and beginning to address it can often seriously hurt people close to those in recovery. Romantic partnerships, family bonds, and friendships can all be endangered or destroyed in the face of addiction and the loss of these social supports can in turn endanger someone’s mental health.
While in recovery this dynamic is extremely detrimental because relapses can happen multiple times, placing stress on the family and friends around the person healing. Someone’s relapse may alienate their social support and the lack of social support make relapsing again more likely. These kinds of positive feedback loops can happen throughout addiction making recovery more difficult.
Often closely linked to relationship issues, financial trouble can appear during substance use in many ways. The cost of maintaining a substance use disorder depends on the substance of choice, but often becomes problematic. Maintenance cost aside, a severe enough addiction can also result in loss of employment,.
Instances of addiction that result in legal issues also pose a threat to people’s financial safety. Possession charges, distribution charges, and infractions related to illegal activity performed while under the influence can all cost large amounts of money and in some cases result in jail time or prison sentences.
Physical Health Risks
While there is certainly a spectrum among substance use and dangerous health effects, most drugs when used enough carry a host of damaging long-term side effects. In the short-term, all substances have an inherent risk of overdose when administered, some like fentanyl can be fatal with very little when compared to drugs like marijuana that require cartoonishly large amounts of the drug to overdose.
Over time, most substances regardless of legality cause health issues if the volume of use passes normal levels. Injection based drugs increase the risk of diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV when needles are shared and reused. Alcohol and cigarettes wear on important structures like the liver, lungs, and throat. Legal substances can be more dangerous in some respects because their legality allows people to overindulge and reach dangerous levels of use before seeking help.
On top of the obvious implications of health complications, any medical attention as a result of substance use disorders contributes to the financial strain of addiction. If you live in places like the US where healthcare is not fully subsidized, the treatment for overdoses or medically assisted recovery can reach into tens of thousands of dollars. When faced with issues like these, it’s clear how someone in an already fragile mental state could fall into a suicidal thought pattern.
There is Help
Mental health may seem like it should just “work” normally, but it can take some effort to maintain. If you are feeling suicidal and worried for your safety or you know someone in this situation, please reach out for assistance using the resources in this separate blog post. Don’t commit a permanent act to end a temporary situation, you are worth the time it takes to heal.
If you or someone you know are fighting through a substance use disorder, you are not alone. Drug rehab and alcohol rehab come in different forms for different needs, but there are two major categories and these pages have general information on the different experiences each treatment provides.
Christine Youdelis-Flores MD, Richard Ries MD (2015) Addiction and Suicide a Review. Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ajad.12185
Carolyn Ross MD (2014) Suicide: One of Addiction’s Hidden Risks. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/real-healing/201402/suicide-one-addiction-s-hidden-risks
Premier (2019) Opioid Overdoses Costing US Hospitals an Estimated $11 Billion Annually. Retrieved from: https://www.premierinc.com/newsroom/press-releases/opioid-overdoses-costing-u-s-hospitals-an-estimated-11-billion-annually#:~:text=The%20average%20cost%20for%20an,billion%20in%20annual%20hospital%20charges.
NIH (2020) Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
Mike Muldoon is an addiction and recovery writer working in Florida. After struggling with mental health throughout high school and college, he wanted to work in a field advocating for people suffering from mental illnesses like addiction. Outside of work he likes to decompress with hobbies like climbing, playing music, and playing video games with friends.