The Link Between Addiction and Suicide
Suicide is something we may never truly understand. People who feel the impact of a loved one’s suicide are often left with guilt and regret about how they could have been more supportive or done more to prevent it. But, at the end of the day, suicide leaves a lot more questions than answers. While there is an undeniable link between addiction and suicide, it isn’t always a linear one; rather, it is a soupy quicksand of behaviors, patterns, coping mechanisms and cycles that can be hard to separate. We’ll take a few moments to examine the components of this link and encourage those looking to take steps on a path toward recovery.
Navigating the Link Between Suicide and Addiction
The link is a classic “chicken or the egg” scenario. It is often hard to tell if a suicide happens because of problems battling addiction; or, if an addiction exists as a means to mask suicidal feelings. A quick look into Hollywood celebrity culture lends many famous examples of the suicide quagmire:
-Anthony Bourdain, chef and writer, host of CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
-Kate Spade, handbag designer
-Philip Seymour Hoffmann, Academy Award winning actor
-Heath Ledger, Academy Award winning actor
-Chester Bennington, singer for Linkin Park
Celebrities are just normal people whose private lives come with more publicity than your average suicide victim. So, they undoubtedly represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the number of people battling the dual cousins of addiction and suicide. You can look at each celebrity as a type of spokesperson for the battle. While it may be an unfortunate role, it is no less an important one.
The Role of Mental Illness
A third player in addiction and suicide cycles is mental illness. It is reported that 66% of suicide victims are also dealing with some form of depression. When depression is diagnosed, the types most often referred to are chronic/clinical depression, bi-polar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). For long-time sufferers of these ailments, it is unclear if many turn to addiction to numb the pain and mask the symptoms, or if the addiction exacerbates the symptoms.
Abuse of Medications
When mental illness is present, diagnosed, and treated, heavy psychotropic medications are often used as part of a multi-faceted treatment plan. Even under the watchful eye of a physician, abuse of the medication can and does happen. This again starts the vicious cycle of addiction and depression that can be so hard to climb out of. Yet in some cases, there is no physician’s involvement and the patient may be self-medicating to escape the pain and confusion of living with mental illness. This can lead to a reliance on not just prescribed medications but also alcohol and other harmful, but recreational narcotics.
Undocumented Mental Illness
It is difficult to pin down the statistics on the link between mental illness and addiction because many people don’t report their illnesses and never get an official diagnoses. Mental health is still misunderstood in our society and the stigma and shame attached to suffering with mental health issues leads some people to suffer in silence and avoid seeking help. If a person does not feel comfortable asking for help, it may be easier to self-medicate their problems and use a short-term fix, as opposed to undergoing multi-faceted, ongoing long-term solutions that may include talk therapy, medications, and proper holistic treatments.
Effects of Addiction
Under the influence of certain substances, a person’s judgment is impaired. This leads to poor decisions that deplete lifestyles. Substance abuse leads to trouble with the law or other major snarls. In addition, addiction is a threat to all relationships and may whittle down any support system the addict may have. When these issues compound, consequences start to pile up and addicts begin to feel helpless and hopeless in the fight against their addiction. They may see their only option is to give in further to their addiction or, they give up altogether and see suicide as the only other feasible solution.
Accidental vs. Intentional Suicide
When an addiction is present, many suicides result from an overdose. If this is the case, it is difficult to separate which suicides are accidental and which are intentional. This is an added layer to the complexity of the link between addiction and suicide.
The Dual Curse of Addiction
The tragic trick about addiction is that it’s a double-sided coin, and both sides of the coin are a loss:
-Addiction is a contributing factor in a suicide
-Addiction is also a means by which to commit suicide.
This is a perfect illustration of the chicken vs. the egg conundrum of addiction and suicide. Indeed, with the aforementioned celebrity suicides, many of their family members were under the impression that the addiction was under control at the time of their deaths.
Proactivity and Constant Management
Since addiction and suicide is such a complicated stew, it’s very important to stay on top of any treatments for mental illness, addiction, and attempted suicide. It will always be a slippery slope and the tide can turn fast when you’re fighting a battle on this many fronts. A certain level of maintenance will always be necessary to people suffering under this plight. This may seem overwhelming to many people. For that reason, its important to have a solid team behind you; a team to let you know you don’t have to carry this large burden on your own.
For those suffering with both addiction and mental illness, our team at Springboard recovery offers what is known as dual-diagnosis treatment. Dual diagnosis is not offered at every facility. If you or someone you love finds themselves in need of a dual diagnosis treatment, we would be happy to be a part of the team to get you onto a healthier path and do the day-to day maintenance to help you stay there.
- MedlinePlus: https://medlineplus.gov/suicide.html
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: https://www.hhs.gov/answers/mental-health-and-substance-abuse/does-alcohol-increase-risk-of-suicide/index.html
- American Psychiatric Association: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
- National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml
- National Library of Medicine: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25644860/
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-conditions
- WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/obsessive-compulsive-disorder
- National Rehabs Directory: https://www.rehabs.com/blog/5-reasons-addiction-often-leads-to-suicide/
- MedlinePlus: https://medlineplus.gov/dualdiagnosis.html