Excessive drug or alcohol use is a complex issue that can have extensive and highly damaging consequences, not only for the individual but also for their families, communities, and society as a whole. Substance abuse and addiction can lead to a range of difficulties, including financial issues, health problems, strained relationships, as well as legal issues. But one of the most significant and potentially life-threatening consequences of substance abuse is the increased risk of suicide it carries.
Suicide is a leading cause of death in the UK, particularly among young people, and is often – though not always – a result of underlying mental health problems. Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders are highly common in individuals who struggle with substance abuse, and these mental health issues – which are often worsened by drug use – can make it more difficult for people to cope with the challenges of life.
A lot of research into the relationship between substance abuse and mental health has shown that people who struggle with excessive drugs and/or alcohol usage are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and attempt suicide. This is particularly true for people who have co-occurring mental health problems; a co-occurring disorder is when a person simultaneously suffers from a substance addiction or behavioural addiction alongside a mental health problem. Substance abuse can also lead to impulsive and reckless behaviour, with those who are struggling being more likely to engage in risky actions which can further increase the risk of suicide.
It’s very common for those affected by substances to experience a loss of control over their lives, which can lead to these feelings of anguish and desperation. Cycles of hopelessness and despair are also common for people who struggle with substance abuse, all of which can play a significant role in a person’s negative thoughts and self-worth, further magnifying the risk of suicide for the individual. The loss of control and feelings of hopelessness can also feed into someone’s social interactions, with ongoing issues with substances potentially leading to social isolation and strained relationships. This can impact a person’s sense of loneliness, isolation, and hopelessness; all of these feelings can make it difficult for people to see a way out of their problems and can in turn lead to thoughts of suicide.
For effective measures to be taken to prevent not only the risk of suicide, but potential loss of life in those struggling with substances, it’s crucial that people understand the connection between substance abuse and suicide and know that both can be preventable. There are a number of steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of suicide, whether you’re a parent, relative, teacher, friend, or concerned other, including:
- Adopt an open culture where it is safe for someone to talk about drugs. Assure someone they can be honest, and the conversation will not result in judgment or trouble. Remind them they are not alone.
- Providing information and resources on the dangers of substance abuse and the signs of suicidal behaviour.
- Offer support and help with finding treatment for substance abuse and mental health problems, whether it be therapy, medication, and support groups. What works for one person, might not work for another, so be patient and allow them to find what works best for them.
- Building strong support networks that can help individuals manage their mental health and prevent suicide.
- Promoting healthy coping skills, such as exercise, mindfulness, and hobbies, to reduce the risk of substance abuse and suicide.
- For medical professionals – screening for substance abuse and mental health problems, particularly in high-risk populations, such as those with a history of depression or anxiety.
It’s important to note that some people with substance and alcohol use disorders can experience withdrawal effects if they suddenly stop – and these can be dangerous. Please speak to your GP or a medical professional, who can support you in your recovery.
Together, we need to work on raising awareness of the connection between substance abuse and suicide, so that individuals and communities can better understand the importance of seeking help when needed. This may involve educating individuals and families about the signs and symptoms of substance abuse and mental health problems, as well as providing information on where to get help.
The connection between substance abuse and suicide is a complex and often devastating one. However, by understanding this relationship and taking effective measures to prevent the tragic loss of life due to these two interrelated issues, we can help to ensure that individuals struggling with substance abuse get the help they need and are able to lead healthier, happier lives.