September Marks Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and National Recovery Month

September is both Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and National Recovery Month. For many people, addiction and suicide may seem like separate issues or issues with minimal overlap. In reality, alcohol or drug use is linked to increased risk of suicide in several ways.

According to studies:

  • 20% of non-traffic deaths involving alcohol were suicides.
  • 22% of completed suicides in the United States involved alcohol intoxication.
  • Opioids are present in 20% of suicide deaths in the U.S.
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts are much more common among people with depression and substance use disorder (SUD) or alcohol use disorder (AUD).
  • SUD or AUD are more likely to contribute to young people and adults (as opposed to seniors) dying of suicide.
  • Alcohol and substance use combined with depression is the most common contributing factors to suicide in American Indians and indigenous Alaskan people.

Addiction and Co-occurring Disorders

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), people with SUD are very likely to have a co-occurring disorder, such as depression or anxiety. In fact, about half the people struggling with addiction will be diagnosed with another mental health condition at some point in their lives and vice versa.

Co-occurring disorders complicate addiction recovery in a few different ways:

  • The conditions often exacerbate each other. In most situations, it’s impossible to tell whether one disorder caused another, as these illnesses often have the same causes (e.g., genetics, environment, upbringing, etc.), however, we do know that substance misuse can sometimes cause other forms of mental illness, and that people may use substances to mitigate the symptoms of their mental illness. While the use of substances can provide temporary relief, in the long run it worsens someone’s co-occurring disorder while their addiction to drugs and alcohol becomes more severe.
  • People with co-occurring disorders have low rates of adherence to addiction treatment programs. This is especially the case when their addiction and co-occurring disorders are not treated simultaneously.
  • Co-occurring disorders may be difficult to diagnose when someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or is withdrawing from them. Psychosis, anxiety, and depression are common symptoms of withdrawal or intoxication, so they may be missed during evaluation.

Drug and Alcohol Use and Suicide

In addition to mental health issues, addiction also tends to coincide with, cause, and worsen financial and social problems, which can lead to someone feeling hopeless. Additionally, substance use is also more common among people that are prone to making impulsive choices and engage in high-risk behaviors. All these factors coupled with the effects of alcohol and drugs on someone’s inhibitions may contribute to the risk of them taking their own life.

While there is no cure for mood disorders, personality disorders, anxiety, or addiction, these conditions are all treatable. In many cases, it may require professional help, often involving a combination of therapy and medication.

Both Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and National Recovery Month are both intended to provide an outlet where we can discuss these issues that are unfairly stigmatized and seen as taboo in our society. It is a time when we’re encouraged to educate ourselves on these issues and spread the knowledge that may save someone’s life, simultaneously encouraging others that may be struggling with suicidal thoughts or addiction to seek help.

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