Life can be really hard sometimes. For many people, life’s hardships feel very difficult, but they are able to reach out for help from family, friends, or healthcare providers. For others, life’s hardships feel impossible, and rather than finding solace in social connections, they may isolate. Their pain can become overwhelming, and their need to move away from it becomes stronger and stronger. They may turn to alcohol or other drugs or increase consumption if they already use. Some of them may start to think about suicide. Some of them will take their own lives.
Sadly, suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2018
- 48,000 people committed suicide making it the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.
- It was the 2nd leading cause of death among people between ages 10 and 34.
- Suicide was the 4th leading cause of death among those between ages 35 and 54.
- There were 2.5 times more suicides (48,344) than homicides (18,830) in the United States.
Suicide and Substance Use Disorders
The connection between suicide and substance use has been researched since at least the 1960s, and correlations are clear. Increased substance use is a behavioral marker of suicide risk. While we tend to associate suicide with psychiatric disorders, specifically things like Major Depression or Bipolar Disorder, research has shown that alcoholism, not a psychiatric diagnosis, is the strongest predictor of suicide. Studies also link opiate use disorder to suicide and call to question whether opiate overdose numbers from the last several years (during the Opiate Epidemic) may include more intentional deaths than are being reported. People who struggle with substance use disorders, whether they have a diagnosed co-morbid psychiatric illness or not, are 6 times more likely to commit suicide than those in the general population.
The fact that so many people suffer enough to consider, attempt and complete suicide is more than sad. The good news is that suicide (and the ongoing suffering that leads to suicide) is preventable. Since the correlation between substance use disorders and suicide is so clear, seeking help for these issues, whether any other warning signs exist or not, is an obvious choice. With that said, it’s important to remember that both substance use issues AND suicidal thoughts are often secret. The truth is, you may not know exactly what is going on; you may just have a gut feeling that something is wrong. The most important thing you can do if that’s the case is ASK. Period. Don’t be afraid to say something. You can also be on the lookout for the following emotional, verbal, and behavioral markers:
- Emotional Markers
- Feeling depressed
- Lack of interest
- Shame or humiliation
- Mood swings
- Verbal Markers (Talking about)
- Killing themselves
- Their life having no meaning or purpose
- Feeling like a burden
- Feeling stuck
- Not wanting to exist
- Behavioral Markers
- Cutting off friends and family
- Giving away possessions
- Reckless behavior
- Increased aggression
- Gathering pills or weapons
- Increased substance use
- Searching the internet about suicide
If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out for help. There are people that are ready to listen. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and all calls are confidential. If you have a gut feeling about a loved one, ask, and then listen. If they say they have a plan, even something that sounds low-key or passive, assist them in finding help immediately. They can walk right into any emergency room or urgent care facility. If you fear you are about to hurt yourself or that your loved one is in immediate danger, call 911. Don’t wait.
Remember, suicide is preventable. There is help.
Dr. Allaire received his Bachelors of Science in Biology from the University of Houston, as Valedictorian of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and his Medical Doctorate from Baylor College of Medicine, where he served as Chief Resident. He is the medical monitor for the Physician Counseling Committee of the Harris County Medical Society and the Medical Director of Serenity House Detox. Dr. Allaire specializes in medically assisted detox cases, treating patients in recovery from addiction or other mental health disorders, the medical assessment and monitoring of patients with addictive disorders, medical care related to eating disorders and the medical treatment of patients with mental health conditions.