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Co-Occurring Disorders


The connection between suicide and drug and alcohol addiction is an all too tragic one. Not only are suicidal thoughts likely to lead to drug and alcohol abuse, but suicide is more likely as a result of substance abuse.

The Scope Of The Suicide And Addiction Problem

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with an average of 130 lives claimed per day. In 2019, there were 1.38 million suicide attempts; of that 1.38M, 47,511 were fatal. Statistically, the rate of suicide is higher in men, where in 2019 (the most recent year data is available) men died by suicide 3.63 times that of women. In the same year, 50.39% of all suicide deaths were caused by firearms. Despite these numbers, 93% of American adults believe suicide to be 100% preventable, indicating that there might be a disconnect in the way we relate to and understand this stigmatized cause of death for so many.

If you are contemplating suicide, please stop reading and call 1-800-273-8255. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is open 24/7 and allows anyone to speak openly and anonymously.

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Co-Occurring Disorders

Suicidal thoughts affect one’s emotional and psychological well-being in a myriad of ways. Individuals with mental health disorders frequently attempt to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, as drugs can appear to provide temporary relief to combat emotional and mental pain. For example, anxiety sufferers may turn to alcohol to find relaxation in the midst of their stress or to feel more daring and excited in social situations, and individuals with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) may drink to ease inner stress. Self-medication often turns into addiction; when an individual suffers from a substance use disorder (SUD) or addiction as well as a mental health illness, they are diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder. Common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders
  • Low self-esteem
  • Trauma from relationships
  • Trauma from childhood

90% of individuals who fall victim to suicide have a mental health disorder, most commonly depression. Many who suffer from Major Depressive Disorder have attempted, contemplated, or have fallen victim to suicide.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is another common disorder among those who have lost their lives to suicide. PTSD and suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts) can be a result of exposure to severe injuries or trauma. Military personnel who have experienced trauma such as losing friends in active combat often suffer from PTSD. These feelings of agitation, loss, and panic attacks may lead to increased drug and alcohol use as a source of comfort. Veterans who feel hopeless and abuse alcohol while struggling with suicidal ideation are more likely to attempt suicide to non-fatal or fatal consequence.

Suicide And Substance Abuse

7.9 million Americans have co-occurring disorders, and studies on suicide reveal a strong correlation between suicide and drug or alcohol dependency. Individuals who abuse drugs and alcohol are 10 to 14 times more likely to contemplate, attempt, or die from suicide. Individuals who abuse alcohol, for example, risk increasing their susceptibility to suicidal ideation as depressive states can be triggered by excessive alcohol abuse. Mixing substances makes matters worse. Chances of suicide are higher if a patient who abuses Cocaine, for example, is prescribed antidepressants or they consume alcohol.

Individuals who have struggled with depression, PTSD, and borderline personality disorder are more likely to use Opioids. Men who use Opioids are twice as likely to fall victim to suicide, and women with Opioid-use disorders are 8 times more likely.

Substance abuse challenges, combined with any co-occurring disorders, can lead to thoughts of suicide and depression. In many cases, individuals who struggle with substance abuse disorders and attempt to detox from any substance can become extremely depressed as a result. This is one of the many reasons why medically-supervised detoxing is safer and more advisable than a self-detox.

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Suicide Risk Factors And Warning Signs

There are risk factors associated with suicide, which can be identified and prevented. Suicide occurs for many complex reasons. Varying factors can contribute to someone’s sense of belonging and identity. Reasons individuals may contemplate, attempt, or ultimately lose their life to suicide include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Unshakable guilt or shame
  • Homelessness
  • Unemployment
  • Bullying
  • Minority stress
  • Isolation
  • Victimization
  • Panic attacks
  • History of substance abuse disorders

Other common traits which can influence suicide include:

  • Family history
  • Unemployment
  • Sexual, physical or emotional abuse
  • Grief/loss
  • A previous history of compulsive behaviors
  • Thrill-seeking behavior
  • Co-occurring disorders
  • Brain chemical imbalances

Behaviors that indicate an increased suicide risk range from oversleeping, increased drug and/or alcohol abuse, insomnia, and speaking of suicide. If a loved one mentions suicide or has attempted suicide, get help now.


A major component of prevention is support and connection. If you or a loved one is suicidal, there is always hope. Many programs are in place to assist in rehabilitation and prevention. They provide support and also help individuals needing encouragement.

Rehab facilities are not limited to individuals who are struggling with alcohol and substance use disorders. Therapies in rehab facilities can assist with a variety of other conditions, including suicidal ideation. Caring therapists assess patients with addictions, as well as those who suffer from depression and self-harming tendencies. Mental health professionals can provide treatments for future patients and offer patients access to support groups for recovery.

Reaching out for help to heal is key. Contact a treatment provider today.

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