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Drug Abuse and Suicide: The Anonymous Epidemic

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Suicide is not a new concept, yet for many Americans, has long-been an unfamiliar or “unmentionable” topic in common conversation. Like drug abuse and addiction, suicide carries great stigma and a taboo-nature that makes it so hard to talk or think about.

But that is exactly the problem. People are not talking about addiction and mental health, people are not always aware of their presence or their severity, and those that are struggling, out of fear or lack of support, do not always get the help they need and deserve.

Think about it. If you broke a bone, you would go to the hospital immediately. But if you needed help for a drug addiction, would you willingly seek out treatment? If you were having depressive or suicidal thoughts, would you check yourself into a medical facility without hesitation? Most people wouldn’t.

Perhaps that is why the new Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has received so much exposure in recent months. The show, which follows the motives leading up to a teenage girl’s suicide, has sparked a nationwide discussion about the sensitive subjects of mental health and suicide – two understated, yet ever-present adversities in our communities today.

Suicide remains as the fourth-largest cause of death among Americans aged 15-34, according to 2015 research by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Ranking even higher on that list are the deaths from unintentional poisoning, which includes accidental drug overdoses. Other recent reports have verified that drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death from injury in the United States. 

The facts are both shocking and heartbreaking, knowing that the prevalence of these depressive and drug-related fatalities is so high, yet the subjects still so foreign. They are anonymous epidemics affecting our population, our loved ones, our friends and family. And they all too often overlap.

We already know that mental health and drug abuse are closely connected, but what can be said about the relationship between drug abuse and suicide? In what ways does drug addiction, drug abuse and suicide intertwine?

Mood disorders are the leading cause of suicide, with depression being the most common. Depression is also a common side effect of drug abuse as well as a frequent withdrawal symptom. So when a person uses drugs, it puts him or her at greater risk of developing depression and therefore a heightened risk for suicide.

Suicide is among addiction’s most hidden and detrimental dangers, with the second leading risk factor for suicide being alcohol and drug abuse. This is due to the fact that disorders like depression and addiction affect the same areas of the brain, reworking the parts that are most associated with pleasure and pain. People who use drugs may experience chemical-induced suicidal thoughts, especially after coming down from a high. Some will even use drugs as a means to take their own lives.

Rates of depression are three times higher in people with substance dependence than the general population. Those battling substance use disorders are six times more likely to attempt suicide. About one in three people who commit suicide are under the influence of drugs.

The connection between drug abuse and suicide deepens even further when we think about the hidden numbers, the anonymous addicts, who suffered from negative, suicidal thoughts, depression, and other co-occurring mental disorders before they started abusing drugs. They may have turned to drugs as a means to self-medicate, in attempts to alleviate their dark or depressive thoughts. After prolonged use, however, drugs can have the opposite effect. They can actually heighten the negative thoughts and behaviors that the user was trying so hard to ignore.

A recent article by the President of the American Psychiatric Association highlights the particular correlation between suicide and opioid abuse. Her research reveals that prescription opioid misuse is associated with a 40 and 60 percent increased risk for suicidal ideation. Among people with Opioid Use Disorders today, the risk for suicide death is over 2-fold for men and more than 8-fold for women.

The author calls readers to reduce the stigma that is associated with substance use disorders as well as suicide. It’s time that we face the facts, and recognize that those suffering from drug addiction or depressive disorders deserve treatment and attention. Drug addiction and suicide are not choices; they are disorders that directly and devastatingly impact the brain.

As a young adult drug rehab center, Turnbridge could not agree more. Together, we can overcome the stigma that is all too often associated with drug abuse and suicide, with addiction and mental health. We need to increase awareness about the dangers of unintentional overdose, about the side effects of drug abuse, and the tragic outcomes of drug-related suicide.

If you or someone you love is experiencing depression, drug addiction, and/or suicidal thoughts, please do not hesitate to call Turnbridge at 877-581-1793. Our compassionate, clinical team can help you. You may also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.