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Link between Addiction and Suicide in Young Women

Posted on September 8, 2022

A cohort study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that young women with a history of suicide attempts were more likely to develop substance use disorders in the future. However, despite the high prevalence of suicidality among young women, this is the first study to examine the risk of substance use after suicide attempts. To prevent suicide, it helps to understand how suicide can be linked to substance use disorders.

The Cohort Study Process

A cohort study is a form of research that compares a particular outcome in groups of individuals who share some characteristics and may differ in other ways. This approach follows participants

over a period of time, from months to years. During this time, researchers observe whether or not the participants experience a specific outcome.

Study of Suicide and Substance Abuse in Women

The 30-year study began in 1989 in Quebec, Canada. At the time of a suicide attempt, girls and women were no younger than eight and no older than 20. The ratio of patients with a prior suicide attempt and those without an attempt was 1:20. The study defined the primary outcome measure as hospitalization for a substance use disorder. 122,234 females participated between 1989-2019, and 5840 of them attempted suicide in that span of time.

Results of Study of Suicide and Substance Abuse in Women

The follow-up with participants showed that 3.6% of patients (4341 total) were hospitalized for substance use disorders, including 25.4% of those patients (1104 total) with a prior suicide attempt. In the group with a previous suicide attempt, the incident rate of hospitalization for substance use disorder was seven times higher than among women with no prior attempt.

Other study data reveals:

● Young women who attempted suicide were over six times more likely to develop a substance use disorder.

● The risk for substance use disorder was greatest in the 5 years after the attempt and remained elevated throughout follow-up.

● Women with three or more suicide attempts had the greatest substance use disorder risk compared with women without attempts.

Substance Choice Can Be a Factor in Suicide and Substance Abuse in Women

The study revealed the strongest association between abuse of sedatives, hypnotics, hallucinogens, and suicide attempts. Elevated risk for suicide attempts came from disorders involving cocaine, stimulants, alcohol, opioids, and cannabis.

Conclusions of Study of Suicide and Substance Abuse in Women

The results of this study emphasize the risk for young women to develop substance use disorders following a suicide attempt. In addition, women with a prior suicide attempt remained at increased risk for developing substance use disorders for 15 or more years after their attempt. However, it’s important to note that the results are limited to hospital discharge data and not women in outpatient settings.

The Immediacy of Intervention Matters

Without treatment, a young woman remains at an elevated risk for developing a substance use disorder following a suicide attempt. Starting treatment within hours or days of a first suicide attempt allows a young woman to receive the necessary mental health support and care before she turns to drugs or alcohol and other self-destructive behaviors.

A residential program with dual diagnosis treatment is recommended for women who have attempted suicide and developed a substance use disorder.

Benefits of Residential Programs at Origins

Origins provides evidence-based, trauma-informed treatment for women. Trauma may have come from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Ongoing neglect or abandonment by a parent are other factors that could have created trauma in a young woman’s life.

At an Origins residential program, women with past suicide attempts can learn health behaviors by reframing traumatic memories in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) sessions. They can learn how to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors as part of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Even physical activities and recreational therapy at Origins can be valuable for learning problem-solving skills and teamwork.


Origins Behavioral Healthcare is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety.

For information on our programs, call us today: 561-841-1296.