Home > The Complex Nature of Abused Substances and Getting Help for Addiction > Substance Abuse and Suicide
According to the World Health Organization, over 1 million people die every year from suicide. In the United States alone, over Over 30,000 people commit suicide every year. Suicide is It is the leading cause of death for mean and women under 34 years of age in Australia.
Suicide is the intentional taking off ones own life. Suicidal behavior includes thoughts, plans and attempts to take ones own life. Suicide causes immense distress to individuals, families, communities and workplaces. The impact can be long lasting, it can change friend networks, create community problems and contribute to breakdowns of families and jobs. Research indicates that the two key most significant suicide risk factors are drug abuse and mental health diseases.
There are a vast and varied range of contributing factors for people who commit suicide. Some of these risk factors include social disadvantage, family and childhood adversity, personality, current mental health, exposure to recent adverse life events, use of alcohol and other drugs, depression, history of deliberate self harm, interpersonal conflicts, rape or sexual assault, physical health problems, violence, road traffic accidents or other traumatic incidents.
Suicide can be prevented by access to drug and alcohol treatment, mental health treatments, crisis support, education and other social support networks.
Alcohol and substance abuse can contribute to negative social problems which can further increase the risk of suicide. This is because people who use alcohol or drugs are exposed to situations and events that can have significant traumatic effects on a persons mental health. Examples of situations include exposure to violence, prostitution, drug overdoses, assaults, injuries and illnesses.
One report into youth suicide in Australia revealed that nearly half of male suicides and a third of female suicides had blood alcohol readings above the legal limit for driving a vehicle (0.05% BAC). This report indicated that alcohol and other drugs appear to increase the risk of suicide. This is due to both the short term intoxicative effects of drugs and alcohol that can lead to impulsive suicide and also the long term effects of dependency that can exacerbate existing mental health disorders like depression or schizophrenia. The same report found that a third of all male suicides and a quarter of female suicides had illicit drugs detected.
The use of alcohol or other drugs might play a critical role at the time of the suicide act. This is because alcohol and drugs reduce inhibitions and increases implusivity.
Hazardous levels of alcohol consumption has been linked to suicide attempts. Alcohol is considered a risk factor for suicide, even in the absence of abuse or dependence. This is because alcohol leads to impulsive, spur-of-the-moment suicides due to its dis-inhibiting properties. Alcohol can turn an ambivalently conceived self-destructive act into a completed act by decreasing inhibitions or increasing risk taking behaviors
Conversely, statistics suggest that up to one-third of individuals who commit suicide meet the criteria or alcohol abuse or dependence. Alcohol dependence can cause many problems for both the person with the addiction and those around them. Family problems, violence, money issues and health problems are just some of the issues that alcoholism can cause. These issues are also significant risk factors for suicide.
Cannabis has been found to contribute to an increase risk of suicide. Cannabis can increase risk of mental illnesses such as depression and make existing conditions worse. Long term cannabis use can lead to dependency in some people. This may increase the indirect risks for suicide because there could be an increased likelihood of legal, interpersonal and other psychosocial difficulties associated with drug dependency. Studies have found that cannabis was the most commonly detected drug in people who have committed suicide.
Opiate use, especially heroin, has been linked to significant social and psychological problems that include anxiety, loss of job and family, serious health problems such as hepatitis and HIV and depression. Opiate use carries a high risk of accidental overdose which can cause death. Studies have found that almost all deaths of opiate addicts have been from unnatural causes; suicide, accidents, overdose or homicide.
Susceptibility for suicidal behavior may increase with withdrawal or abstinence from opiate drugs after a period of dependency. Withdrawal from opiates is often a long and painful process with significant discomfort felt by the user during the detox phase. This discomfort and the associated depression may contribute to a persons decision to take their own life.
Research has shown that the most effective preventative for suicide is through the early identification of mental health conditions and their treatment. Self-medicating addicts, i.e., those people who suffer from mental disorders and use drugs or alcohol as a treatment, have a higher risk of suicide.
Co-morbid mental health disorders are recognized to account for a major portion of the association between substance use and suicidal behavior This risk is dramatically reduced through appropriate treatments for mental health disorders.
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