Suicidal Ideation: How Addiction and Suicidal Thoughts Are Related
The choice to end one’s own life often comes from a dark, desperate place. Suicide, however, is preventable. No matter how bad things get or how hopeless situations become, readily available resources can change the trajectory of those struggling with suicidal ideation.
How does addiction relate to suicide? In many cases, it is one of several factors leading to suicidal thoughts and actions. Family history, mental health issues, triggering events, and substance abuse often create a perfect storm of negative emotions leading one to consider or act on suicide.
After all, those struggling with addiction often use drugs or alcohol to cope with personal difficulties. At first, drugs or alcohol can make it seem like life’s problems aren’t so bad. Of course, this is not a solution to personal issues, just a temporary escape. Soon addiction sets in and an escapist mentality becomes a habit. With continued use, individuals witness the destruction of relationships, careers, and personal identity as they compulsively try to escape.
Identifying the signs of depression and addiction may help a person pull out of his or her downward spiral and seek the help he or she truly needs. If you are worried about your loved one, this guide can help you see the warning signs and give you the resources to save a life.
Signs of Depression
Everyone feels down from time to time. After all, life has its fair share of trying times that need to be worked through. Depression, however, is more than just “the blues.” It is a mood disorder affecting how you feel, think, and act towards yourself and the world around you. A variety of factors cause depression, including family history, hormones, and brain chemistry.
Signs of depression include:
- Intense feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- Losing interest in daily activities–especially the ones you used to enjoy
- Social isolation
- Insomnia or excessive sleep
- Lacking the energy to do even the simplest tasks
- Agitation, irritability, or being easily frustrated
- Fixating on past failures
- Changes in appetite or eating patterns
- Difficulty with memory, concentration, and decision-making
- Frequent and pervasive thoughts about death or suicide
Not everyone who deals with depression turns to drugs or alcohol to cope. If you suspect a loved one’s substance abuse is concerning, especially if they show signs of depression, you should know some tell-tale signs of addiction.
Common Signs of Addiction
As an individual starts relying on drugs or alcohol to cope with emotions and everyday life, certain “red-flags” start to appear. These include:
- Changes in mood
- Irritability or aggressive behavior
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Being secretive about daily activities
- Noticeable weight loss or gain
- Giving up once pleasurable sober activities
- Missing work, school, or other obligations
- Trying to quit or cut down use without success
- Associating with a new peer group related to drug use
- Legal or financial problems
- Getting defensive or minimizing when asked about substance abuse
- Engaging in high-risk behaviors to use or obtain a drug
- Presence of drug paraphernalia
Addiction and the Mental Health Risk
As you can see, addiction and depression share many of the same symptoms.
So is addiction causing depression or is depression causing the compulsive need to use drugs or alcohol? There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer. Every person’s experience is different.
Using drugs and alcohol create changes in the brain’s chemistry. Substance abuse virtually hijacks the brain’s reward center. Activities that were once pleasurable may become uninteresting. The need to get high supersedes a life once enjoyed.
Conversely, those dealing with the uncomfortable feelings of depression may turn to substances as a way to self-medicate. Unfortunately, relying on alcohol or unprescribed drugs can actually make depression much worse.
Intensive therapy during drug treatment may help each individual get a better understanding of how his or her depression and substance abuse are interrelated. Without help, these conditions may lead to suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
Suicide: How to Get Mental Health Treatment
Suicide–the act of taking one’s own life–is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, since 2008, suicide was the tenth leading cause of overall death in the US. In 2016, for example, almost 45,000 individuals age 10 and over died by suicide. For those between the ages of 15 and 24, it was the second leading cause of death.
Sadly, the suicide rate has significantly increased since the turn of the century. From 1999 through 2017, the age-adjusted suicide rate increased 33 percent. Of the estimated 120 suicide deaths per day, almost 70 percent were likely to be white males.
How does depression play a role? Not everyone dealing with depression will attempt suicide. It is, however, a significant risk factor. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about 2 percent of individuals who, at some point, received outpatient treatment for depression die by suicide. The number doubles for individuals with a history of inpatient treatment for major depression. Also, those who received inpatient care after suicidal attempts or ideation are three times more likely to commit suicide compared to those treated as outpatients.
Warning signs for those considering suicide include:
- Verbal threats or passing remarks like, “Things will be better without me around.”
- Expressing helplessness or hopelessness
- Showing signs of depression
- Giving away cherished possessions
- Showing no interest in future pans
- Previous sucide attempts
- Engaging in high-risk behaviors
- Increased drug or alcohol use
Substance Abuse and Suicide Risk
Sadly, some people reach a point where their hopelessness and desperation take them to a very dark place. Addiction can hasten the process. Those who abuse drugs or alcohol are as much as nine times more likely to attempt suicide compared to nonusers.
Risk factors for suicide attempts among those struggling with addiction:
- Suicide attempts in the family
- Family history of psychotic disorders or addiction
- Duration of substance abuse
- Type of drugs abused (intravenous drug users are more at risk)
- Hypersensitive personality structure, which is a type of biological predisposition due to structures in the brain
Life is Precious–Help is Always Available
If you struggle with suicidal ideation or think a loved one may be suffering, resources are always available .
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline helps those in crisis. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you can connect with a professional who will listen to you and give you the resources to make it through this difficult time. If you feel more comfortable communicating with someone by text type TALK to 741741.
In addition, calling 1-800-784-2433 or visiting www.hopeline.com can connect you with a local crisis center.
What to do if someone discusses suicidal thoughts with you:
- Stay with the person or arrange for others to be with him or her
- Don’t make any promises of secrecy
- Try to stay calm and nonjudgemental
- Lending a supportive ear is great, but don’t try to counsel the person on your own
- Determine if the person has a specific plan regarding their suicidal actions. Suicide risk is much higher for those with detailed plans
- Encourage the person to seek professional help
- If you feel the person is in danger, call your local emergency number
Trust your instincts. Don’t second guess yourself. It’s always best to air on the side of caution for those struggling with depression, addiction, and suicidal ideation. Remember: your actions during an individual’s crisis can be the difference between life and death.