Addiction to drugs or alcohol can have many devastating effects–not just on the lives of the user, but for their families and friends as well. Not only does addiction damage relationships, jobs, education prospects, and self-esteem, it can have irreparable effects on the body and mind. Worse, alarming studies over the past several years have shown that people who are addicted to substances also have the weight of death by suicide hanging over their heads.
The reasons for addiction vary depending on the person; sometimes, it stems from an event, such as a big life change. Divorce, moving to another city, or other relationship issues are often named as reasons people begin using. Sometimes, loss is the cause; the death of a loved one can be a particularly difficult event to cope with. Other causes include being diagnosed with an illness or post traumatic stress disorder, struggling with sexuality, or living with the effects of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. The reasons are varied, but it’s important to try and get to the bottom of why a person abuses drugs or alcohol in order to fully help them. Dealing with the underlying issue is imperative in the road to recovery; healing old wounds is a painful process, but it is necessary when attempting to get healthy. One of the reasons for this is that there may be depression at work, or even an undiagnosed emotional or mental health disorder, which could all lead to suicide.
Because drugs and alcohol increase one’s desire to be impulsive, it’s possible that they can lead to violent behavior against others or self-harm. For this reason, it’s imperative to make sure the individual does not have access to weapons. Having a gun in the home increases the likelihood for suicide; access plus impulsivity is a dangerous combination.
The consequences of addiction can also lead to suicidal thoughts. These include legal troubles, financial issues, damaged or dissolved relationships, and health problems that will only get worse over time. Stress and overwhelming feelings of sadness can lead to the individual feeling hopeless, helpless, and isolated, all of which can in turn lead to suicidal thoughts.
Although drugs and alcohol can cause impulsive and risky behavior, that doesn’t exclude planning. For some, thoughts of suicide bring comfort because they can’t see any other way out of their situation, and the longer they think about it, the more they may plan on how to do it, where to carry it out, and what it will mean for their loved ones. Some of the warning signs of thoughts of self-harm include:
- Talking or writing about death
- Giving away belongings
- Visiting family or friends as if to “say goodbye”
- Sudden isolation
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness
- Planning for the care of children or pets
If you suspect a loved one is thinking about suicide, don’t hesitate to start a conversation with them about it. The important thing to remember is that there is no need to be judgmental or lay blame or guilt; they are likely already feeling those things anyway. Simply listen and let them know you’re concerned. Offer to help them find a counselor, therapist, or support group and avoid “intervention” type situations with multiple people; this may only make the individual feel more isolated.
*Michelle Peterson has been in recovery for several years. She started RecoveryPride.org to help eliminate the stigma placed on those who struggle with addiction. The site emphasizes that the journey to sobriety should not be one of shame but of pride and offers stories, victories, and other information to give hope and help to those in recovery.