In the U.S., suicide is a leading cause of death. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that a person dies by suicide every 11 minutes. Although various factors may contribute to a person’s decision to take their own life, researchers have identified both alcoholism and drug use as contributing factors in many cases. The link between substance addiction and mental illness is certainly well established. Here, we’ll explore this link and the underlying need for those suffering from drug or alcohol addiction to seek help.
The Brain and Addiction
Most people are aware of the powerful effects that addiction has on the body. A person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol experiences powerful physical cravings for the substance they’re addicted to, and if they don’t use regularly, they’re vulnerable to the onset of withdrawal symptoms that often include headache, nausea, vomiting, and tremors.
However, addiction does not only involve powerful physical dependence. Those addicted to drugs and alcohol are also mentally dependent. Addiction or, rather, the addictive chemicals the individual has become dependent on, changes the chemistry of the brain. These changes can result in the development of mental health disturbances that may be temporary in nature or permanent. For instance, depression often accompanies alcoholism. A person who stops drinking may find that their depression symptoms ease too. On the other hand, they may have developed a permanent mental health condition that requires lifelong management.
The Problem of Self-Medicating Mental Illness
On the other hand, the link between addiction and mental illness isn’t simply a one-way street. Although substance addiction can lead to the development of mental health problems, sometimes an individual who is suffering from conditions like depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, or some other mental illness may turn to drugs or alcohol to alleviate their symptoms as a form of self-medication.
While individuals may experience some temporary relief from their mental illness symptoms, the typical scenario is that continued reliance on self-medication with drugs or alcohol only exacerbates an already serious problem and has the potential to worsen the mental illness, sometimes even triggering suicidal thoughts.
Suicide and Substance Addiction
Both suicide and substance addiction are serious public health problems. Since the year 2000, the incidence of suicide has increase by 30%. Similarly, if alcohol and tobacco are included in the survey, more than 60% of Americans who are aged 12 and older have a substance addiction, according to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. In the past year, roughly 20% of Americans have misused prescription drugs or used a street drug. The increase in drug use, especially opioids, may certainly be playing a role in the increase in suicide deaths.
Why Does Suicide and Substance Addiction Sometimes Go Hand In Hand?
The statistics associated with substance addiction and suicide are startling, but what exactly do they mean? Why does drinking and drug use sometimes factor into a person’s decision to commit suicide?
Feelings of Hopelessness
Experiencing an addiction to alcohol or a powerful drug like heroin or a prescription painkiller can feel overwhelming. Experiencing a mental illness like depression or anxiety can feel overwhelming. Now, combine the two. The presence of a dual diagnosis, addiction and mental illness, doubles the anguish that an individual often feels when afflicted by one or the other of these conditions. An individual may feel hopeless and powerless to do anything about it. Feeling hopeless and trapped, it’s not surprising that some people begin to contemplate suicide.
A person who has a mental health condition and a substance addiction often behaves in ways they would not if they weren’t suffering from these conditions. Because of their mental illness, they might lash out at loved ones or make decisions that hurt themselves and others. Similarly, a person who is addicted often exhibits problematic behaviors. They might drain their bank account on drugs or alcohol, ruin their career, or engage in risk-taking behaviors like driving while under the influence. These behaviors can lead to profound feelings of regret that do not dissipate.
Experiencing co-occurring disorders like addiction and mental illness can be a lonely experience. Sometimes sufferers isolate themselves. Sometimes friends and family members withdraw from them. Feeling alone can add to the hopelessness and unhappiness associated with these conditions. Those feelings can be so painful that the individual eventually looks to suicide as a way out.
Recovery Is Possible
When a person feels overwhelmed, hopeless, lonely, and regretful, they may find it impossible to believe that recovery is truly possible, and yet it is. Substance addiction and mental illness are both conditions that can be managed, but it takes time and, invariably, help–professional help. Today’s leading addiction treatment centers understand the links between addiction and mental health; addiction specialists know that the best way to help someone suffering from a dual diagnosis is to provide simultaneous treatments that address both conditions.
First, it’s important to realize that there isn’t a cure for addiction. Once you’ve become addicted, it’s a lifelong condition that must be managed. Similarly, mental health conditions are also not ‘curable’. Individuals must manage them to keep symptoms at bay. They may take medications or engage in ongoing counseling. On the other hand, people who successfully manage these conditions often find that it gets easier as time goes by because they’ve learned how to manage their addiction and mental health effectively.
The first step toward addiction recovery and successful management of mental health conditions like depression is to get help. Inland Detox specializes in addiction treatment services, including medical detox and rehabilitation. With treatment, individuals can develop strategies for coping with their condition and support for transforming their lives and health for the better. If you’re suffering from addiction or experiencing suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to contact us in Riverside County for a consultation.