4 Reasons for Increased Suicide Risk in Addicts

4 Reasons for Increased Suicide Risk in Addicts

Depression and addiction are inexorably tied to each other. This has been known for some time, and a closely related concern is the risk of suicide. A new piece of research has been released that aims to investigate the underlying factors that drive some people struggling with addiction to attempt suicide. Although the sample size is fairly small, this study offers insight into four of the potential reasons for an increased suicide risk during addiction.

The Study: What Is Associated With Suicide Attempts?

The main premise of the study was to determine the factors influencing the relationship between substance abuse, depression and suicide. The researchers found 57 participants, all attendees at a substance abuse treatment center, and gave them questionnaires to determine their general psychological state, their drug use status, history of depression and/or suicide attempts and a life events assessment scale. Of the sample, over 68 percent had major depression and just over 28 percent had attempted suicide within the last year. By performing statistical analyses based on the findings, the researchers hoped to reveal just what it is that makes an addict a suicide risk.

  1. Alcohol or Marijuana as First-Used Drugs – One of the main factors identified that appears to affect suicide risk is the specific substance used first. The researchers found that individuals who started out with drugs like heroin or methamphetamine were less likely to attempt suicide than those who started by using alcohol or marijuana. This was an even bigger factor when people who started out by drinking moved to marijuana, or people who started out using marijuana moved to cocaine. The researchers theorize that it isn’t alcohol or marijuana that are specifically responsible for the increased risk, but rather that people who start with either of these drugs are more likely to be using them to self-medicate against depression, or otherwise as a result of depression.
  1. Depression Occurring Before Addiction – Depression is a driving factor for many people who use drugs, but drug use is a self-destructive and ineffective way of dealing with the condition. The result of this is that people who were struggling with depression prior to using drugs generally get worse, and the researchers found that those who had depression before substance use were at greater risk for suicide than those who developed it later. This is one of the reasons that addressing the root cause is vital in cases of addiction: if you just deal with the drug use, you miss the thing that’s pushing the individual to do it in the first place.
  1. Attempted Suicides Before Addiction – This is an expected finding: if you attempt suicide before using drugs, you’re more at risk of doing so after drug use begins.
  1. Family History of Drug Abuse – This may be the most interesting apparent relationship identified by the researchers. Not only were those with a family history of drug abuse more likely to attempt suicide in the previous year, they were also more likely to develop depression. It’s well known that your family’s addiction history impacts your chance of developing addiction, but it could also be that the early childhood experience of being raised by somebody struggling with addiction leads to the increased risk. In short, is it nature or nurture? Is genetic influence leading the children of addicts to the same world of depression, addiction and suicidal thoughts? Is it the experience of growing up in such a household or a combination of the two?

The Importance of Tackling Root Causes

The most notable thing about this study’s findings is that none of the reasons are believed to wholly relate to a specific substance. Much like with addiction itself, the substances or behaviors of choice are secondary to the underlying reason the problems developed in the first place. If your drug use came after or as a direct approach to “coping” with depression, you’re at greater risk for suicide attempts, and you’re more likely to have started with alcohol or pot, too. Stopping drug use would be a start, but what you really need in this situation is a real, healthy coping mechanism that helps you tackle the core issues that sent you down this path.

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