The Link between Addiction Recovery, Mental Health and Suicide
When a loved one is suffering from an alcohol or drug addiction, it is common to feel fear — fear that one day you will get a phone call that your loved one has been in a serious accident or has overdosed. But what many people neglect to think about is the possibility of suicide — which is undeniably linked to alcohol abuse and drug addiction. In the U.S. alone, over 40,000 people committed suicide in 2013, which works out to over 100 people per day who took their own life. Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in America. Depression and other mental health disorders are the leading cause of suicide, followed very closely by alcohol and drug addiction or abuse. In fact, research shows that alcoholism, not a psychiatric diagnosis, is the number one predictor of suicide. Alcoholics were found to be 5 times more likely to eventually commit suicide than non-alcoholics.
The Link between Addiction and SuicideMany people who abuse drugs or alcohol have underlying depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders and will use substances in an effort to self-medicate. In the beginning, of course, having a drink or using drugs will seem to get rid of the problem. But the fact is, it will only exacerbate the problem over time. Without learning to properly cope with the underlying disorder, it will require evermore drugs and alcohol to seemingly keep it at bay, and eventually substances will no longer work and the problem will actually be worse than it was in the beginning. Even in users without underlying mental health issues, alcohol and drug addiction can change the brain chemistry over time, actually causing disorders such as depression, anxiety and mood or personality disorders. Another factor that links addiction and suicide is that many addicts begin to feel that their life is out of control. When an addict realises the control that drugs or alcohol has over his or her life, a feeling of helplessness can often take hold. At this point, the best case scenario is that they reach out for help and enter some form of addiction treatment programme. But the worst case scenario is that this feeling pushes them deeper into their addiction, with no obvious way out. When an addict feels overwhelmed by these emotions, suicidal thoughts can often take over. Of course, getting an addict into treatment as soon as possible is the best way to overcome the threat of suicide, but that is not always possible. And even if they enter rehab, suicide risk does not disappear just because an addict is in recovery. In fact, for many addicts, recovery can be an even more difficult time, which creates further suicidal thoughts.
What Leads to Suicidal Thoughts in Addiction Recovery?Addiction recovery can be a scary time for addicts, and can contribute to feelings of suicide in the following ways:
1. Learning to live substance free.One of the scariest times for addicts is when they complete drug or alcohol rehab, and have to return home to get back into ‘normal’ life. Life becomes completely different. It becomes too dangerous to hang out with old friends; and old hangout spots become triggers for relapse — meaning that life after rehab is often similar to starting over completely. For some, they may have to move in with friends or family if they lost their house to their addiction. These unfamiliar experiences and new feelings can quickly spiral into suicidal thoughts if the addict does not use healthy coping skills to help them move forward with a positive mindset.
2. Dual-diagnosis.It is important that an addict attends an addiction treatment facility that is equipped to not only understand, but to properly treat addicts with co-occurring disorders. Over half of all addicts are dual-diagnosis individuals, meaning that beyond addiction they also suffer from another form of mental illness including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and personality disorders among others. If a rehab facility is not properly equipped to deal with these co-occurring disorders, once the addiction treatment is complete, the addict will still be left to deal with their second mental health disorder separately — or in many cases, not at all. If an addict has not been diagnosed properly in treatment, they will not understand how to cope with this other mental illness, which can leave them once again with feelings of helplessness and despair, which can lead to suicidal thoughts.
3. Feeling overwhelmed.Addiction recovery is overwhelming, even on the best of days. Aside from trying to start your life again with a fresh slate, knowing that recovery is a lifelong journey that is never officially complete can make anyone feel like giving up. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to recovery and it is something that takes work each and every day. For some, knowing this can make them feel utterly depressed and suicidal thoughts can creep in.
4. Non-positive circumstances.One of the biggest relapse triggers which can also cause suicidal tendencies, are non-positive circumstances or traumas. For example, if someone close to the addict dies they will automatically want to pick up a drink or use drugs. If they cannot find a job or feel lonely without their old friends, they may want to drown their sorrows in a bottle. Breakups, chronic physical pain or ill-health, financial or legal problems, lack of direction in life — all of these things can be detrimental to an addict’s recovery. Many people are able to use the coping skills learned in treatment to get through these circumstances alive and sober. But if a relapse occurs, this can bring feelings of shame, guilt and worthlessness that can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Warning Signs of Suicide in Addiction RecoveryAll addicts in recovery deal with the above situations to some degree, and some people are better equipped to deal with them than others. For those that seem to be having a harder time dealing with these circumstances, it is important to know and be able to recognise the warning signs of a person with suicidal thoughts in order to get them the help they need. Keep an eye out for the following behaviours:
- Spending as much time alone as possible.
- Loss of interest in hobbies or activities they normally find enjoyable.
- Episodes of intense emotion such as sadness or anger.
- Being reckless (driving too fast, ‘showing off’ with dangerous pranks, etc.)
- Talking about suicide and death.
- A sudden or irregular switch in mood after a period of depression. In some cases, once they have made their decision to end their life they feel as though a weight has been lifted and a solution has been found, allowing them to appear much happier than normal.
- Being impulsive. Or rather, not taking time to think about the ‘bigger picture’ or what their actions could mean for their future.
- Saying goodbye to people with finality — as though they will never meet again.
- Lack of focus and concentration.
- Pessimistic about the future, even when positive opportunities arise.