Examining The Unfortunate Intersection Of Suicide & Addiction
Every suicide does not involve addiction, and every addiction does not lead to suicide, but there is a still a strong correlation between the two. In fact, half of those who attempt suicide choose drugs and/or alcohol as their means and a quarter of those who complete suicide are abusing drugs and/or alcohol at the time. While those numbers are disturbing, there is not much we can do unless we examine the root causes of suicide and addiction and identify where they intersect.
The most obvious culprit is mental illness. Some of those who suffer from mental illness turn to drugs and/or alcohol as a form of self-medication. Under a doctor’s care, these individuals may be prescribed medications that would alleviate their symptoms. When people do not receive the proper medical care, however, they often experiment with various substances and dangerous amounts in an attempt to feel better. There is another group, comprised of people who may or may not be under medical supervision, that turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with the stress and strain of managing their condition. They are not attempting to relieve the symptoms of their mental illness, but instead are trying to escape their reality.
Both of these groups feel overwhelmingly burdened by their addiction, their mental illness, or both. They resort to suicide because they feel helpless, lost, ashamed, and alone. What is most heartbreaking is that we can successfully address most mental health issues, if people recognize the need for help and seek treatment. Too often, mental illness goes undiagnosed or is willfully ignored. In those instances, it is not uncommon for someone to begin abusing drugs or alcohol. Some studies suggest that 90 percent of people who succumb to suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death, predominantly unrecognized or untreated depression. We need to be more aware of ourselves and of one another. We also need to remove the stigma of mental illness, which is a primary barrier to receiving care. The same is true of treating addiction. With the right help, recovery is possible, but denial and shame frequently prevent people from entering treatment.
It is also possible to view drug and/or alcohol abuse as a form of prolonged suicide. It may take several years, and there may not be a moment when someone consciously decides to withdraw from this world, but we are all well aware of the physical toll of substance abuse and the dangers of overdose. Yes, some addicts feel invincible and think they will never suffer negative physical consequences. There are others, however, who are already experiencing severe medical conditions, such as liver failure, but still continue to use their drug of choice. They are choosing death. Not at a specific time or place, but nevertheless, they are bringing about their own death through substance abuse.
In between those two extremes is a group of people who fully understand the fatal risks and consequences of their addiction and yet continue to abuse drugs or alcohol. They know each time they do so they are that much closer to dying, and something about that appeals to them. With addiction, however, you can see that progression and intervene. There is no guarantee that your attempts to stop that slow march towards death will be successful, but at least you have the opportunity to try.
According to the most recent statistics from the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), suicide is the eleventh cause of death in the United States. They calculate, on average, there are 94 suicides per day or one suicide every 15 minutes. When you consider how many of those suicides either involved drugs or alcohol as a means or were committed by people who are abusing drugs and alcohol, it is clear to see these two issues are inextricably intertwined. Sadly, suicide and addiction frequently go hand-in hand, ushering our loved ones towards an irreversible and tragic solution.