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Suicide in Young Adults: Depression, Addiction Are Primary Contributors

Posted on December 4, 2017


Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, especially among young people. In the United States, it is the tenth leading cause of death, claiming the lives of more than 44,000 people. According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, the percentage of adults having serious thoughts of suicide was highest among adults aged 18-25. It is the second leading cause of death among teens.


Suicide, addiction, and depression are closely related.


More than 90% of people who commit suicide struggle with a mental health disorder or addiction. For many young people, these conditions are co-occurring, meaning that happen alongside one another. Depression and addiction form a deadly combination. Like adults, adolescent and collegiate-aged individuals with severe depression frequently turn to drugs, alcohol or other risky behaviors in an attempt to numb psychological, mental, emotional, or spiritual discomfort. For those with addiction, the obsession to drink or use clouds the user’s mind into believing that these substances can alleviate their source of pain.


Addiction can significantly increase the severity and duration of depressive episodes.


While mind-altering substances may provide the perception of temporary relief, they can greatly increase the likelihood of suicidal thoughts (also known as suicidal ideation). This phenomenon is exacerbated by addiction’s intrinsic ability to damage or destroy critical personal relationships. Eroding relationships and feelings of isolation further increase the risk of suicide. Mind-altering substances can impair judgment and result in reckless behavior. These behaviors can lead to suicide attempts that substance users may not otherwise try while sober.


Suicide Has a Range of Causes


Every case of suicide is dramatically different, as are its causes. In most cases, there is no single cause, but rather a constellation of contributing factors that lead to feelings of hopelessness and depression. Risk factors do not always mean that suicide will occur. However, several factors can increase a person’s risk of attempting or dying by suicide.


Some of the most common risk factors for suicide include:


  • Suicidal ideation or thoughts
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • A history of mental illness, such as depression
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • A family history of violence or abuse
  • Presence of firearms in the home
  • Aggressive or violent behavior towards others


Only depression is more closely correlated to suicide than addiction. Individuals with a substance abuse disorder are nearly six times as likely to report a suicide attempt during their lifetime.


The Opioid Epidemic and Suicide

The preliminary figures from the National Center for Health Statistics suggest that there were more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know how many of these deaths were accidental and how many were a result of suicide. With the rising use of opioids among young people in high school and college, this poses a significant threat.


Know the Warning Signs


Every person who contemplates suicide is unique. Accordingly, warning signs do not follow any one set pattern. Some exhibit few warning signs publicly while others exhibit many classic warning signs for months or years before committing suicide. It is rare that any one person will exhibit the complete range of warning signs. Treating professionals know that those exhibiting these warning signs may never attempt to commit suicide. Similarly, these signs can also be symptoms of other complications, including mental illnesses such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).


Some of the most common warning signs of suicide include:


  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, particularly online
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Abandoning hobbies or other sources of enjoyment
  • Behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Decease in academic or work performance
  • Extreme mood swings


When these warning signs appear, it is important to quickly connect the person to supportive services that can intervene.


Suicide Prevention and Addiction Treatment


Of all the possible ways to lose a loved one, many find suicide to be the most painful.


Because of the stigma attached to suicide and the assumption that suicide is a choice, loved ones are left with an innate sense of powerlessness. Many who experience this type of tragic loss inappropriately blame themselves. These feelings can lead to overwhelming guilt for family members, loved ones and peers. Loved ones who have lost someone to suicide often require counseling and grief therapy, as well as psychoeducation about suicide. It is important to collectively continue to raise awareness about the warning signs in order to prevent future loss.


Helping an individual overcome mental health or substance use disorders is one of the most critical steps in suicide prevention


The recovery process can significantly alleviate depression and related mental health symptoms commonly associated with suicidal ideation. Similarly, abstinence from mind-altering substances can improve short-term judgment. Mental health professionals are uniquely qualified to accurately assess and diagnose any underlying mental health concerns that lead suicide. Treatment programs that specialize in treating co-occurring disorders can help patients recover from multiple, serious issues – such as depression and substance use disorders – that lead to suicide.


When you encounter someone having thoughts of suicide, guide them immediately:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255  

If you encounter someone suffering from alcoholism or another drug addiction, let them know that recovery is possible. Encourage them to call the Admissions Department at Origins: 844-250-9228.