The Dangers of Suicidal Thinking and Substance Abuse

Posted by | Alcohol and Drug Use, Co-Occurring Disorders & Mental Health, Treatment Programs | March 01, 2016

Suicide is most often a symptom of depression. However, it can be a symptom of other forms of mental illness, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When a person continues to experience thoughts of death or ending their life, they are at risk of actually attempting suicide. And they are at risk of losing their life.

This risk greatly increases when a person is also using substances. This was true for the comedian Robin Williams who took his life in 2014 and who struggled with depression and substance use for most of his adult life. Shortly before his death, Williams admitted himself into Hazelden Treatment Center in Minnesota. Although he was scheduled to spend several weeks there, he discontinued his treatment. It’s unclear what caused his depression and whether he was able to keep up with his depression treatment throughout his life due to a busy acting career.

Like Williams, there are many people who use drugs and alcohol as a means to cope with their suicidal thinking and depression. At the same time, those who struggle with addiction can sometimes develop mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), it’s  common for those with addiction to also have a psychological illness. In fact, about 60% of those who have an addiction also have a mental illness of some kind.

However, more specifically, the combination of substance use and suicidal thinking can create great risk for a person. For instance, a person may become more impulsive, less rational, more emotional, and less logical when under the influences of drugs and/or alcohol. In fact, consumption of high amounts of alcohol has been linked to suicide attempts in research studies. Alcohol is considered to be a risk factor for suicide even when a person doesn’t have an addiction or dependence to alcohol. One reason for this is because when a person is under the influence of alcohol, their judgment is impaired, they have less inhibitions, and they are more impulsive. Alcohol can influence a person in such a way that they break through the fear that tends to come with contemplating suicide. Without fear of committing suicide, they are likely to act upon it.

If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide and/or alcohol addiction, it’s important to get help. If someone is suicidal they may be depressed or have another mental illness. Research indicates that the best form of treatment for a co-existing mental illness and an addiction is to treat both disorders at the same time. In fact, when they are treated concurrently, there is a significant decrease in suicide attempts. When left untreated, however, the mental illness can worsen the addiction and the addiction can worsen the mental illness.

If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts and addiction, contact a mental health provider immediately.

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