The Stress of Early Sobriety
Those people who break away from an addiction face many challenges. In the past they will have been able to deal with problems by turning to alcohol or drugs, but this is not an option in recovery. Instead the individual needs to develop improved coping strategies and a new way of dealing with the world. Some people become so overwhelmed by the stress of early sobriety that they look for an easy way out. There are also individuals who previously self-medicated depressive symptoms, but now have to face them again in recovery. These individuals may feel desperate and hopeless, and this can lead to thoughts of suicide.
The Relationship between Addiction and Suicide
Substance abuse is one of the main reasons for why people commit suicide. Those who abuse alcohol or drugs are 5 times more likely to kill themselves than the general population. Many who suffer from depressive symptoms often self medicate using alcohol, and this exacerbates their symptoms. Alcohol abuse can also directly cause people to develop depression and experience suicidal thoughts. Those who escape addiction may continue to be at high risk of suicide.
Suicide and Hopelessness
If people feel hopeless it increases their likelihood of committing suicide. This feeling occurs when the individual is faced with a problem that they believe is beyond their power to surmount. People can also feel hopeless if their life lacks meaning and there seems to be no real point to doing anything. When the individual is faced with hopelessness then suicide appears like an attractive proposition. The life force that keeps people going begins to lose its potency.
Reasons for Suicide in Recovery
People in recovery may decide that to end their own life for a number of reasons:
- Learning to deal with life without a chemical crutch takes time. Until the individual has developed sufficient coping strategies their stress levels can feel a bit overwhelming.
- Many addicts have a dual diagnosis. As well as an addiction they might also be suffering from depression. This may have originally turned to substance abuse as a means to deal with these other symptoms. If the individual only receives treatment for their addiction then this other mental health problem will continue to make life difficult for them.
- If people have attempted suicide in the past then this increases their risk of doing so again in the future.
- The early weeks and months of recovery can feel like an emotional rollercoaster. People tend to experience great highs and great lows during this time. During a low patch the individual can feel hopeless and may not believe that things will ever get better again.
- Recovery is a process that is ongoing. There is no graduation day. In order to make a success of their life the individual needs to be constantly developing. This occurs by facing life challenges and overcoming them. If the individual refuses to face a challenge they become stuck and there can be no more progress – this is sometimes referred to as dry drunk syndrome. When people are stuck it means that their life becomes unsatisfactory and stressful. They may start to view suicide as a way out of this.
As well as the challenges of recovery from addiction the individual may also be faced with other problems that leave them feeling hopeless including:
- Death of a loved one
- Financial problems
- Legal problems
- Relationship breakups
- Being diagnosed with a disease
- Chronic pain
- Lack of meaning in life
- Fear of the future
Suicide Warning Signs
Those people who are feeling suicidal will tend to display a number of warning signs including:
- A desire to be alone most of the time
- Giving their belongings away
- A loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed
- Mentioning suicide or talking about death
- Episodes of crying
- Reckless behavior
- Anger outbursts
- A sudden lifting of mood after a period of depression. This occurs because the individual feels happy that they now have a final solution to their problems.
- Erratic mood changes
- Change in eating habits
- Change in sleeping pattern
- Saying goodbye to people as if it is the last time
- Lack of focus and inability to concentrate
- Inability to see good times in the future
- Negative thinking
Suicide in Recovery
It is oft said that “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”. This adage seems particularly poignant as it applies to people who commit suicide while recovering from an addiction. This is because once these individuals become established in sobriety they will almost certainly find great happiness. Things may feel hard and even hopeless at the times, especially in the early days of recovery, but things do get better. People just need to have faith in the idea that by doing the right things the right things will happen.
How to Prevent Suicide in Recovery
Suicide in recovery can be prevented by:
- Those people in recovery who experience depressive symptoms need to seek professional advice. They may be suffering from a dual diagnosis. Well meaning friends in recovery groups may try to suggest that such feelings are due to not putting enough effort into the program, but such advice can be unhelpful. If people are suffering from depression then they need proper treatment or the symptoms will continue to cause problems.
- Talking with other people about any concerns is extremely helpful. Even if the other person is unable to offer any direct help or advice it can still help just to get everything out in the open. In AA they say that you are only as sick as your secrets. Keeping concerns internalized is a risky business for people trying to build a new life in recovery.
- One of the most important things that people need to do in early recovery is to learn new coping strategies. Now that they no longer have alcohol or drugs they will need to find new ways of dealing with any challenges. Those who attend rehab or belong to a recovery program will be guided in the development of new strategies.
- Membership of a fellowship can be beneficial because it gives people the opportunity to share their problems. There is also a feeling of solidarity created at these meetings that may combat any feelings of hopelessness.
- Aftercare is highly recommended because it strengthens recovery from addiction. Those who have attended rehab will usually be offered some type of aftercare such as booster sessions or follow-up interviews.
- Mindfulness meditation techniques can be useful for people in recovery because it increases their ability to deal with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.
- If people are having suicidal thoughts then it is important to speak to somebody about this right away. There are a number of crisis hotlines options where people can telephone to speak to another individual in complete anonymity.
- Those individuals who feel that they are stuck in recovery need to take action to get back on track. Just ignoring the problem will not make it go away. It just leads to increasing stress and feelings of despair.