Suicide and Addiction

More than 700,000 people pass away due to suicide every year. This number doesn’t take into consideration the attempts either, which are, unfortunately, in the millions. Heartbreakingly, many of these suicidal actions are paired with substance abuse, which shows a clear connection between suicide and addiction.

In this article, we aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of this correlation and offer guidance on seeking help if you’re currently suffering from suicidal behaviours, addiction or both.

What is classed as suicidal behaviour?

Suicidal behaviour encompasses a range of actions and thoughts that indicate a person is at risk of intentionally causing harm to themselves with the intent to die. It’s important to note that suicidal behaviour exists on a continuum, and individuals may exhibit different signs and symptoms. Some common indicators of suicidal behaviour include:



Suicidal thoughts Expressing a desire to die or talking about feeling hopeless, trapped, or having no reason to live.
Suicidal ideation Persistent thoughts about death, dying, or self-harm.
Self-harm Engaging in deliberate self-harming behaviours, such as cutting, burning, or other forms of self-injury.
Isolation Withdrawing from friends, family and social activities.
Giving away possessions Making arrangements or giving away personal belongings as if preparing for an imminent departure.
Sudden mood changes Experiencing extreme mood swings, especially a sudden lift in mood after a period of depression (which may indicate the person has made a decision to end their life).
Substance abuse Increased use of drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with emotional pain.
Seeking lethal means Trying to access weapons, medications, or other potentially lethal methods.

Disclaimer: It is crucial to take any indication of suicidal behaviour seriously. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or behaviours, seek help immediately.

What is a dual diagnosis of suicide and addiction?

Dual diagnosis refers to the co-occurrence of substance abuse or addiction issues alongside mental health disorders. In the context of dual diagnosis, it means that an individual is dealing with both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder simultaneously. This can complicate treatment as the two conditions often interact and influence each other.

When it comes to dual diagnosis involving addiction and suicide, it implies that the individual is not only struggling with substance abuse but also facing suicidal thoughts or behaviours. The relationship between substance abuse and suicidal tendencies can be complex. Substance abuse may exacerbate underlying mental health issues, increasing the risk of suicidal thoughts or actions. Additionally, the consequences of substance abuse, such as strained relationships, legal problems and financial difficulties, can contribute to emotional distress and a heightened risk of suicide.

Why do suicidal behaviours and addiction co-occur so often?

Suicidal behaviours and addiction often co-occur due to various interconnected factors, and it’s important to note that each individual’s situation is unique. Here are some common reasons for the co-occurrence of suicidal behaviours and addiction:

Underlying mental health issues
Both suicidal behaviours and addiction can be linked to underlying mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or personality disorders. Individuals may use substances as a way to cope with these mental health challenges, and the interplay between mental health issues and substance use can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviours.
Some individuals may turn to substances as a form of self-medication to alleviate emotional pain, trauma, or stress. Unfortunately, the use of substances may exacerbate mental health issues over time, contributing to a cycle of addiction and worsening psychological distress. In fact, a study found that alcohol and opioids were two of the most used substances in suicide ideations, risks and attempts.
Impaired judgement
Substance use can impair judgement and decision-making abilities. When individuals are under the influence of substances, they may be more impulsive and prone to engage in risky behaviours, including self-harm or suicidal actions.
Social isolation
Both addiction and suicidal behaviours can lead to social isolation. Individuals may withdraw from friends and family due to the stigma associated with addiction or mental health issues. Social isolation can further contribute to feelings of despair and hopelessness.
Biological factors
There may be shared biological factors contributing to both addiction and suicidal behaviours. Genetic predispositions related to substance use and, specifically, suicide can contribute to an increased susceptibility to both.
Environmental factors
Environmental stressors, such as a history of trauma, abuse, or chronic stress, can contribute to the development of both addiction and suicidal tendencies. These factors can create complex challenges that individuals struggle to navigate.
Lack of coping skills
Individuals facing addiction and mental health issues may lack effective coping mechanisms to deal with life’s challenges. This can make it difficult for them to manage stress, emotions and interpersonal relationships, increasing the risk of both addiction and suicidal behaviours.

Does addiction cause suicidal behaviours, or do suicidal behaviours cause addiction?

In short, the relationship between addiction and suicidal behaviours is multifaceted, with various factors interacting in a complex manner. It’s not a linear cause-and-effect relationship; these issues often reinforce and exacerbate each other. Effective treatment and support for individuals struggling with addiction and suicidal behaviours typically involve addressing both issues simultaneously, taking into account the unique circumstances and needs of each individual. Professional help from mental health and addiction specialists is crucial in managing and treating these complex challenges.

Treatment for a dual diagnosis of suicide and addiction

Addressing addiction in individuals with suicidal thoughts requires a comprehensive and integrated care approach. UKAT provides a diverse range of rehabilitation therapies. Although rehabilitation primarily focuses on addiction, many of these therapies offer significant benefits for individuals grappling with suicidal thoughts. Among the most impactful are:

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT): DBT is a specialised form of therapy designed to assist individuals in managing intense emotions, reducing self-harm behaviours and enhancing relationships. Integrating CBT’s emphasis on thought patterns with mindfulness, emotional regulation and distress tolerance strategies, DBT offers a holistic approach that concurrently addresses addiction and suicidal thoughts.

Individual therapy: Providing a secure and confidential space, individual therapy allows individuals exhibiting suicidal behaviours and suffering from addiction to delve into their emotions, triggers and underlying issues. Therapists utilise evidence-based techniques such as DBT and Motivational Interviewing to tackle distorted thought patterns, improve coping skills and establish healthier strategies for managing emotional distress. Through this tailored approach, therapy serves as a crucial support system, enabling individuals to navigate challenges the challenges that a dual diagnosis, like suicide and addiction, brings.

Aftercare: A crucial component of the recovery process, aftercare plays a pivotal role in sustaining progress achieved during treatment and aiding individuals in transitioning to a healthier lifestyle. UKAT’s aftercare programme encompasses group therapy sessions, providing ongoing support and a platform to address ongoing challenges. These sessions serve to reinforce coping strategies acquired during treatment and act as a safety net to prevent relapses of addiction and suicidal behaviours.

What are the next steps?

If you’re struggling with the heavy burden of a dual diagnosis involving suicide and addiction, please reach out to UKAT today. Our compassionate team understands the complexity of your struggles and is here to offer effective treatment that can help you regain control over your life. You’re not alone, and there is hope for a brighter future. Take that courageous step toward healing by contacting UKAT. Your journey to recovery starts with reaching out.

Call us now for help

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