The Relationship Between Substance Abuse and Suicide

It might seem like common sense that mental health disorders or substance abuse disorders increase a teen’s risk of suicide. But many people don’t realize how much of a relationship there is between young adult substance abuse and suicide.

Young Adult suicide numbers are trending slightly up in recent years

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015, the teen suicide rate was approximately 19 for every 100,000. That might not sound like much, but it means that for every 5,000 kids, close to two committed suicide; in a high school with 2,500 kids, one student likely committed suicide within that year.

While that rate isn’t the highest it’s ever been, it has trended up over the past few years, and one reason might be teen substance abuse.

Warning signs for young adult suicide are similar to symptoms of teen alcohol and drug abuse

While family and friends are usually understandably shocked when a teen attempts or commits suicide, the reality is that 80 percent exhibit warning signs prior to taking action. Some warning signs that a teen might be considering or approaching suicide include:

  • Demonstrating a preoccupation with death
  • Discussing or bringing up the topic of suicide, especially if it’s more than once or at random times — even if the teen tries to frame the discussion as fictional, “my friend said. . .” or hypothetical
  • Engaging in self-destructive or risky behavior
  • Giving away material possessions, especially ones with previously high personal value to the teen
  • Visiting or calling friends and family they don’t normally see
  • Signs of depression
  • Statements of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in things and activities that previously were important to the teen
  • Sudden lack of performance in school or at work or extracurricular activities

If you’re seeing some of these signs from your teen, don’t be afraid to reach out for help or support. While you certainly can’t jump at every little mood a teen goes through, if you feel something isn’t right, it’s always better to seek help when it isn’t needed than to not seek help when it is.

Now that you know some of the warning signs that a teen could be thinking about suicide, check out these signs and symptoms of teen substance abuse:

  • Decreased interest in activities and hobbies
  • Changes in social circles or friends
  • Poor academic performance
  • Breaking rules or lack of respect for authority figures
  • Isolation
  • Acting secretive
  • Loss of interest in activities that previously were important to them
  • Seeking or demanding levels of privacy that were previously not an issue
  • Getting into trouble at school
  • Having conflicts with family or friends
  • Mood changes
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Acting paranoid in nature
  • Changes in appetite or sleep

These are just some of the symptoms that can point to teen drug or alcohol abuse, and you’ll note that the bolded symptoms are the same or similar to some of the warning signs for teen suicide. Even with just this information, you can start to see a connection between the two issues.

Numerous studies show a link between teen substance abuse and suicide

The evidence linking teen substance abuse and suicide isn’t just anecdotal or related to symptoms. Studies conducted by medical staff, psychologists, and government organizations have all noted the connection. Focus on the Family notes that in 30 to 50 percent of reported teen suicides, substance abuse is actually involved in the event. That means that not only is substance abuse linked to the reasons the teen might have attempted to kill him or herself, but also, the teens used drugs or alcohol to make the attempt.

According to literature and research published by the US National Library of Medicine, two factors weigh in more than any others in why teens attempt or commit suicide:

  • Mental health disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder
  • Substance abuse

Add in the fact that substance abuse can cause or worsen existing mood disorders, and substance abuse is an even bigger factor.

Type of drugs, length of use, and life circumstances all play a role

Not every teen who tries drugs or alcohol is going to attempt suicide. Not even every teen who struggles with addiction will attempt suicide, but it is something that parents should be aware of, especially if teens have progressed to harder drugs or more use.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention asked the question: Do teens who abuse drugs via injecting them have a higher risk for attempting suicide? In the subsequent study, they found that over half of the teens who had injected drugs made a suicide attempt and over ¾ had suicidal ideation. The risk was especially great when a teen was injecting drugs and exhibiting signs of depression.

What are the takeaways for parents about teen substance abuse and suicide?

All of these statistics aren’t shared as a scare tactic. Teenagers are growing and maturing, and they’re learning to handle themselves in the world. When parents are too scared to let them do that, sheltering habits can actually make it harder for adolescents to learn and grow.

Instead, work on educating yourself about the risks associated with teen substance abuse. Talk to your teen regularly about the topic and the risks, and stay active in your teen’s life so you can tell when he or she is acting differently or struggling.

If you believe your child is suffering from a mental health disorder or abusing drugs or alcohol, don’t wait until you also see warning signs of suicide. Early intervention is one of the best ways you can help your son or daughter be successful with recovery.

For more information about how you can help your child — or to find out about the caring, comprehensive inpatient recovery treatment at TTC Care — call us today. Our counselors are available to take calls anytime of the day or night, all year long.

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