Our understanding of the correlation between mental health and substance abuse has greatly improved over the years. In the event that drug use is accompanied by suicidal thoughts, specialized treatment is essential. Understanding the relationship between drug use and suicide can help decipher the necessary level of care and intervention.
Addiction creates many biological changes in the chemistry of the brain and can cause altered perceptions. This distortion of reality can both amplify depressed feelings and convince someone that suicide will fix the problem.
Additionally, the “highs” experienced during drug use can create an altered perception of happiness. If the body needs an unnatural boost in serotonin to stay happy, the lack of this boost (once the drug has worn off) will feel unnaturally low. Initial withdrawal from any given substance also causes severe side effects, altering their overall mental health.
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Relationships and interests often struggle as a result of addiction, intensifying the “lows” experienced in drug use. Things that were once important become significantly less fulfilling and behavior toward others can cause significant guilt. When this guilt is too much to handle, drug use is often intensified. This cycle may lead to suicidal tendencies.
Drug use can trigger many mental health issues, such as mania, anxiety, depression, or psychosis. The best way to determine if a loved one is at risk of suicide is to observe and listen for signs, such as:
- Threats of suicide
- Focus on death and dying
- Giving items away
- Preexisting mental health disorders
- Past attempts at suicide
- Increased substance use
- Impulsive, promiscuous, or dangerous behavior
- Loss of job or home
- Emotional vacancy
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol
If you suspect that a loved one is at risk for suicide, it is important to find help as soon as possible. Substance abuse can cause unpredictable behavior, increasing the risk of suicide.
How To Help
When a loved one is living with addiction, they may experience intense feelings of desperation and hopelessness. Opening up may be very difficult, but it’s very helpful if openly approached. If suicide is a concern, there are ways to help:
- Take any indication or threat seriously
- Refrain from guilt, blame, lecture, or judgment
- Encourage communication
- Offer reassurance
- Acknowledge the realness of suicidal thoughts
Never hesitate to share your concern about your loved one with someone who will help (e.g. therapist, mentor, clergy, etc.). Remember that the impulsive effects of drug use can increase suicide risk. So even if your interpretation is wrong, it is better to be safe than sorry.