Alarming research shows that people recovering from an addiction to drugs, alcohol or other substances may be as much as three times more likely to try to kill themselves than people not suffering from addiction.
Having a substance addiction is believed to be among the highest risk factors for the millions of people who attempt suicide each year.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) said that in 2007, more than eight million Americans had suicidal thoughts, a figure relating to 3.7% of the population — but among those battling with substance abuse, the number rose to 11% of the population.
Around 32,000 people in the U.S. actually commit suicide annually, and the greatest concentration of attempts is found in the young adult population — ages 18-25. This is also a demographic with high rates of substance abuse, including toward prescription pain medications.
Experts believe that people working through substance abuse are more likely to truly try to carry out these thoughts or convert them into actual plans, as compared to people without chemical addictions. The number of survey participants who had planned a suicide was four times higher, according to the SAMHSA, than for those without addictions.
The numbers are prompting researchers to take a closer look at suicide attempts. Prior to the study, the SAMHSA questions pertained mostly to learning if people with depression considered suicide. However, in 2008, general questions about suicide thoughts or attempts were included on the surveys.
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) agree, stating that serious factors contributing to suicide risk include having a substance addiction, having depression or another mental illness. In many cases, a mixture of all these factors is present when someone tries to end their life. Some studies indicate that up to 90% of people who carry out suicide also suffer from a chemical addiction or were living with a mental health illness.
A person’s family history concerning mental illness or substance addiction should also be considered a risk factor, as well as having abuse or violence in the family. The use of firearms is the most common method for committing suicide, so having these at home can also increase a person’s risk. When people use addictive drugs in combination with alcohol, their perception toward suicide or inhibitions toward it may also be weakened, giving them a higher chance of making an attempt.
Suicide attempts should be taken seriously, says the NIMH, as most often they are a cry for help from someone experiencing serious distress or anguish. Suicide thoughts or tendencies should be professionally monitored in a mental health setting. Even a singular attempt can take years of counseling to reach a point of recovery.
Despite the numbers showing a link between mental illness, substance abuse and suicide, experts caution that suicide can never be fully predicted. Careful and thorough screenings of people with mental illness and substance abuse problems may be one preventative tool.