The Prevalence of Substance Abuse in Suicide
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Updated: May 13, 2022

The Prevalence of Substance Abuse in Suicide

There is no apparent cause of suicide. However, suicide most often occurs when the life stressors coincide with health issues and unhealthy habits to produce an unfortunate series of events leading to deep despair.

Suicide is a complex concept. Individuals may wonder how a single event could have been so traumatic to cause someone to want to end their own life. However, in reality, many risk factors and warning signs interplay when a person exhibits suicidal behavior.

Substance Abuse and Suicide

Individuals who struggle with alcohol or drug use disorders are at an increased risk of suicide. Studies imply that those who suffer from addiction have feelings of depression and suicidal behaviors more than those who only struggle with mental health issues.

According to the National Institutes of Health, suicide rates have increased 35% in the United States over the past 20 years. Alcohol and opioid use are the two most common substances that have contributed to suicidal behavior. Furthermore, substance use contributes to suicidal actions during all three phases of alcohol and drug use, including intoxication, withdrawal, and chronic usage.

Suicidal Behavior and Alcohol Use

Alcohol consumption and suicide are often associated concepts. Suicide risk is significantly increased in those with an alcohol use disorders (AUD). A previous study discovered that 70% of people who attempted suicide had alcohol in their blood samples, and 66% of those individuals died by suicide.

A separate study involving psychological autopsies reported that between 19 to 63% of all people who died from suicides struggled with AUD.

In individuals with an underlying susceptibility to risk-taking and impulsive behaviors, chronic alcohol use can increase dysfunctional coping mechanisms and obstruct self-regulation, thus increasing the risk of suicide. Reinforcing the relationship between alcohol use and suicide, an additional study revealed that over two-thirds of patients reported that their most severe suicide attempt happened while drinking heavily.

Suicidal Behavior and Opioid Use

In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from opioid use. However, the nature of overdoses from opioid use makes it difficult to know how many deaths are accidental or suicides.

Nevertheless, studies have found that opioid users are 13 times more likely to die by suicide. Opioid use is associated with a 40 to 60% increase in suicidal thoughts and a 75% increase in suicide attempts.

Neurobiological changes can transpire among individuals with chronic opioid use, increasing destructive emotional states, advancing suicide risk, and continuous opioid use.

Protective Factors Against Suicide

It is essential for individuals who suffer from alcohol or other substance use disorders (SUDs) to identify and understand the protective factors against suicide that can help them when life feels too challenging to manage. Some influential protective factors are:

  • Connections to family, friends, and community
  • Easy access to mental health facilities
  • Learning effective coping skills and problem-solving skills when suicidal thoughts develop
  • Cultural, religious, or spiritual viewpoints that encourage getting help and discourage suicidal behaviors
  • Supportive interactions with care providers
  • Restricted access to dangerous resources

Risk Factors That Contribute to Suicide

Many factors that increase the risk of substance abuse also increase the risk of suicidal ideations and behaviors. With an increase in suicide rates, it is essential to bring awareness to the health risk factors, environmental risk factors, and general risk factors related to an individual’s life history that can increase the odds that a person may try to take their life, including:

Health Risk Factors

  • Depression
  • Substance use problems
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Personality traits of aggression, mood swings, or poor relationships
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Anxiety disorders

Environmental Risk Factors

  • Access to harmful resources, such as firearms or drugs
  • Difficulty accessing healthcare
  • Persistent stress, harassment, bullying, relationship problems, or unemployment
  • Traumatic events, such as rejection, divorce, financial crisis, or losing a loved one
  • Exposure to another suicide

Historical Risk Factors

  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide
  • Childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma

Suicide is closely connected to substance use, so it is imperative to confirm the risk factors and the warning signs that affect the likelihood of suicidal behavior.

Warning Signs of Suicide

The majority of people who take their life display one or more warning signs, either through what they say or do. The most common warning signs for suicide include:

  • Communicating a longing for death
  • Conveying a feeling of being stuck or confined
  • Acting distressed or anxious
  • Reckless behavior
  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Losing interest in hobbies or other types of enjoyment
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic drug or alcohol use
  • Severe irritability
  • Hopelessness
  • An abrupt decrease in work or academic performance, participation, or attendance

Substance use disorders are amongst the most common psychiatric disorders found in suicides. The connection between the two can seem like a never-ending cycle. It may be difficult to tell which came first: the addiction or the feelings of deep despair.

Nevertheless, the critical takeaway is acknowledging and recognizing risk factors and warning signs in those who struggle with addiction. These people are at an increased risk of developing depression or anxiety, which can lead to suicide.

Present Moments Recovery understands that life can feel too difficult to manage. Here, clients can receive critical help and find new ways to cope and heal. No one has to struggle with addiction and mental health alone.

Additionally, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available around the clock. In dire situations, simply call (800) 273-8255.

Substance abuse dramatically increases the risk of suicide. Therefore, one of the most crucial steps in suicide prevention is overcoming substance abuse and staying sober. If you or a loved one struggle with addiction or suicidal ideations, we are here to help guide you to healing. Present Moments Recovery center in San Diego, California, provides an individualized and comprehensive approach to addiction, with many levels of care to ensure a successful recovery. Our family-run treatment center offers a team of professionals who can accurately provide one-on-one assessments of each individual to ensure all their needs are met. At Present Moments Recovery, you will find yourself in a calming and home-like environment where healing is possible. We believe recovery only happens in the present moment. Call us today and learn more about our services and how we can help at (619) 363-4767.


If you or a loved one is looking for an effective drug rehab in San Diego, call 619-363-4767. One of our caring members is ready to answer all of your questions.

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