How to Recognize Suicidal Tendencies in an Addict
Addiction and mental health problems often co-occur. Depression, anxiety and other mood disorders are common in people who also struggle with drug or alcohol addiction. Sometimes the mental health issues come first and substance abuse is used as a way to self-medicate. Substance abuse can also trigger symptoms of mental illness or make them worse. This combination of addiction and mental illness can be deadly. If someone you care about is struggling, be aware of the risk of suicide, how to recognize it and how to help.
Substance Abuse and Suicide
Substance abuse and addiction are risk factors for suicide. Depression and other mental illnesses are also risk factors for suicide. Together, mental illness and substance abuse represent a double threat. Drugs and alcohol are mood-altering substances. They can lead a person to become suicidal not only by producing feelings of hopelessness, but also by interrupting social connections and relationships that are important to good mental health.
An addict is not necessarily safe from the risk of suicide while in recovery. If someone struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts before or during substance abuse, she is also likely to continue to feel suicidal even after getting sober. Other factors increase the risk of suicide in recovery. These include a family history of drug and alcohol abuse and alcohol or marijuana as the first substance of abuse. Because drug and alcohol abuse is so intimately connected with suicide, you need to watch for the warning signs in an addict you care about, whether in recovery or not.
Suicide Warning Signs
If you know someone who struggles with addiction, regardless of whether she has been in treatment or has had a diagnosis of depression, get to know these signs well and watch out for them. Being aware could save the life of someone you love:
- Talking about suicide. Talking about killing herself is a definite risk factor. It is a myth that someone who is serious about committing suicide won’t talk about it. Take verbal threats seriously.
- Someone who is depressed feels hopeless, which does not necessarily lead to suicide but can be an important warning sign. Watch for attitudes and signs that she feels no hope for her future, that she doesn’t see a way out or that nothing will ever change.
- Suicidal people tend to withdraw from people they care about. They often want to be left alone and isolate themselves.
- Self-loathing. Watch out for comments like, “I hate myself,” or “I’m a burden to others. They would be better off without me.”
- Looking for a way to die. Watch out for your loved one seeking out lethal items, such as prescription pills, a gun or anything else that she could use to commit suicide.
- Someone who is genuinely suicidal will start to get her affairs in order. She might get a will, give her things away or start to say goodbye to people.
- Turning back to substance abuse. If your loved one is sober and you’re worried about suicide, relapse is a major concern. Suicidal people become self-destructive and may start or restart abusing substances. This is a very dangerous situation for a recovering addict who is suicidal.
Suicide is a real possibility for someone who is struggling with addiction, especially if she also battles depression or other mental health issues. Be aware of her symptoms and don’t hesitate to act if you are concerned. If she is suicidal, she needs professional treatment. Don’t be afraid to confront her about it and bring in other loved ones to help. You could be saving her life.
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