Drug Abuse

Risks of Substance Abuse and Suicide Ideation – How to Identify the Signs

Substance abuse is one of the leading risk factors for suicide ideation. A person living with a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder may try to find relief by using drugs and alcohol without realizing that it is only a temporary release. After the euphoria, it is common to experience a crash, leading to feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy.

According to the data released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), one of the 12 agencies under the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the number of mental health / substance abuse emergency department (ED) visits increased by 44 percent between 2006 and 2014. The report also mentioned a 414 percent increase in suicidal ideation visits. As per a recent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report, on average nearly 100 people die from suicide every day in 2016. However, the number of people who reported attempting suicide was way higher, almost 26,850 a day. The survey found that during 2008 to 2011, of every 31 adults who tried taking their lives in the past 12 months, there was one death by suicide.

Antidepressants may lead to suicide ideation

It is not just street drugs such as heroin and cocaine, but also some common prescription drugs like antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that when used more than the recommended dose, can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Most antidepressants function by spiking the serotonin levels in the brain. Suicidal ideation can also occur if the user stops taking the drug because of the withdrawal symptoms that follow. In certain instances, antidepressants cause akathisia, a condition akin to extreme restlessness and an inability to sit still. Due to the arising discomfort, a patient may feel that suicide is the best alternative. Sometimes, the physician misdiagnosing the condition as further deterioration of depression could prescribe stronger medications causing more harm.

Older individuals with Alzheimer's or those who are suffering from the empty nest syndrome are at an increased risk of falling prey to suicidal thoughts and attempts. While youngsters have support groups in the form of colleagues and friends, elders are more likely to feel depressed because of the lack of social connections.

Signs of suicide ideation

Some of the common signs to indicate that a person is thinking of taking his or her life are:

  • Constantly talking of dying.
  • Giving away things that they were close.
  • Saying goodbye either explicitly or implicitly.
  • Avoiding social contact and withdrawing into a shell.
  • Feeling inept or worthless.
  • Signs of self-injuries or prescriptions of harmful drugs.
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns.

Integrated treatment for dual diagnosis is essential

Often people use substances as a coping mechanism for an underlying mental disorder. If the coping skill is taken away and the underlying illness is left untreated, it will be replaced by another substance. There is a lack of effective treatment for co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis, either due to limited access to health care services or for lack of information. A case of dual diagnosis demands treating the two conditions concurrently and requires a specialized integrated approach. This can significantly improve the treatment outcomes and ensure long-lasting recovery.

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