In my work as a crisis counselor, one of the first questions I ask people who reach out for support is if they are suicidal, followed by if they have been using alcohol or any other substances. There are a number of reasons why these are important questions to ask someone who seems to be struggling.
It is completely normal for people to fear death, even while also considering ending their own lives. Therefore, it’s not especially surprising that many people who are contemplating suicide are more likely to do so after they have been drinking or consuming other drugs.
- According to the FBI, 40 percent of people with alcohol use disorder attempt suicide, with seven percent completing
- People who drink a lot are five times more likely to attempt suicide than social drinkers
- People who abuse alcohol or other drugs are 14 times more likely than non-substance-abusers to die by suicide.
- In more than 20 percent of suicides, the person who died had alcohol in their system at the time of death
- Suicides related to heroin and other narcotics have doubled in recent years
By determining if a person has been using alcohol or other substances, the caregiver will have a more accurate picture of their likelihood of following through with a suicide plan. Alcohol and drugs not only lower inhibitions but may also intensify depression, aggression, and hopelessness.
Removing Stigma from Addiction and Suicide
Suicide is a very uncomfortable topic for many people. They may worry that having an open discussion about suicide with someone will increase that person’s likelihood of attempting it, but research has not found this to the case. Another misconception about suicide is that it is a selfish act; however, people who attempt or commit suicide do so because they do not want to burden their loved ones with their struggles.
Addiction is also heavily stigmatized, with substance use treated as a character defect or moral failing rather than a disease or a maladaptive coping skill that is often implemented to manage traumatic life experiences.
Opening up judgment-free lines of conversation about both addiction and suicide can make it easier for people to share what their struggles are and to get the treatment they need.
Recognizing Signs of Suicide Risk
Sometimes the family and friends who are left behind after a suicide feel that there were no warning signs, but this is rarely the case. Knowing what to look for makes it easier to identify when a loved one is considering ending their life–and to prevent that from happening. Here are some common signs of suicidal tendencies:
- Openly talking about death or suicide
- Giving away cherished possessions
- Gathering items they would use to harm themselves, such as pills, a firearm and ammunition, a rope, etc.
- Contacting loved ones to say goodbye when there is no apparent reason for them to be doing so
- Posting statements or images online that seem to reference suicide and death
- After a period of seeming very sad or restless, suddenly seeming happy and at peace (ironically, this can mean that they have decided to end their life and are feeling relieved because they have made a plan to do so)
Even before these signs become apparent, other clues that could indicate a person is starting to consider suicide include:
- Undergoing drastic changes in behavior – being much more sad or angry than usual
- Isolating themselves from friends and family
- Expressing hopelessness, numbness, and a feeling that everything is pointless
- Experiencing changes in sleep patterns
- Self-harm behaviors
If you are concerned that someone you love is feeling suicidal, there are several steps you can take to determine what needs to happen next.
- Ask directly if they have had thoughts of ending their life.
- If they are planning to attempt suicide and cannot agree to a plan to stay safe, call 911 or get them to the nearest hospital.
- If they are able to make a plan to stay safe, help them find support for their mental health. Talking to their primary care doctor is often the best way to get a referral.
- There may be mental health walk-in clinics or mental health urgent cares near them or Mobile Crisis services available in their area. By googling their county and those keywords, it may be possible to find services that can treat them quickly.
- Give them information for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline in case they need more support before they can get in for counseling.
At Safe Harbor Recovery Center, we understand that mental health and addiction are often interconnected, and we believe in a whole-person approach to treatment. If you or a loved one need help, reach out to us today.