February 26, 2020

Teenage Suicide, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse

Substance abuse and mental illness are closely connected. Each causes, is caused by, worsens, and is worsened by the other. One of the most serious dangers associated with addictive disorders is a greater risk of suicide. Among teenagers and young adults, ages 15 through 24, suicides are the 3rd-leading cause of death.

Alarming Statistics about Suicide in America

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that annually, over 39,000 Americans kill themselves. Consequently, 108 intentional self-inflicted deaths occur every day. Worse, for every completed act, there are 25 attempts.

In fact, it is the 10th-leading cause of death in the US, per the Centers for Disease Control.

An estimated 90% of victims suffer from at least one mental health condition such as:

  • Depression – 15% of people with depression take their own lives. 20% of teens struggle with depression before they reach adulthood.
  • Schizophrenia – 1 out of 20 schizophrenics die by their own hand. Furthermore, schizophrenia is most common among teens and young adults, particularly males.
  • Bipolar Disorder – 20X greater risk than the general population.  As a result, over a third attempt to kill themselves. Of special relevance, up to one-third of teens with depression will experience early-onset bipolar disorder.
  • Borderline Personality Disorder – Over half try to take their own life. Between 3 and 14% of teenagers have BPD.
  • Anorexia Nervosa – Approximately 1 in 5 make at least one suicidal attempt. 90% of teens with anorexia nervosa are girls.
“…I think that probably few appreciate the magnitude of the relationship between substance abuse and suicide.”

~Dr. Richard McKeon, PhD, MPH, Public Health Advisor for Suicide Prevention at SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services

How Suicides and Substance Abuse are Linked

Mental illness is the biggest cause of suicide. However, substance abuse is the SECOND-biggest.

Of special relevance, an individual with a mental disorder is twice as likely to misuse drugs or alcohol. Likewise, the likelihood of mental illness doubles in substance abusers.

According to Substance Abuse Disorders and Suicide, by Dr. Jennifer Olsen-Madden, PhD, of the Psychiatry Department at the University of Denver’s School of Medicine:

  • Substance abusers have a 2 times greater risk of killing themselves.
  • Annually, 132,500 suicidal attempts involve alcohol or drugs.
  • 85% of those attempts require medical admission.
  • 15,000 US teenagers make drug-related suicidal attempts every year.
  • Of those, half involve opioids.
  • Girls attempt suicide twice as often as boys.
  • However, boys die from suicide at a rate that is 4 times higher than girls.
  • 40%-60% of suicide victims were intoxicated at the time.
  • Up to 30% of completed suicides are by people diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) or alcohol dependency.
  • 1 out of 7 people who are alcohol-dependent kill themselves.
  • Alcohol abuse is the greatest predictor of suicide.
  • An alcoholic’s risk of suicide is over 5X greater than a non-alcoholic’ s.
  • 89% of alcohol-dependent suicide victims have a history of mental illness.
  • Alcoholics who attempt suicide are more likely to have concurrent depression than attempters who are not alcoholic.
  • Poisoning is the third-leading suicide method.
  • Intentional drug overdoses account for 75% of poisoning suicides.
Why Does Substance Abuse Increase the Risk of Suicide?

There are several theories:

  • Substance abusers are more likely to have a dual diagnosis.
  • Alcoholics/addicts are more likely to have a history of trauma.
  • Substance abuse impairs a person’s problem-solving ability.
  • Alcohol and drug use results in poor impulse control.
  • Because active addiction creates social isolation, it separates the individual from their support system.
  • Genetics – alcoholics with a history of suicide attempts typically also have a history of suicide attempts among their closest relatives.
  • Intoxication decreases inhibition and increases aggression. Most of all, it impairs judgment.
  • Alcohol, greatly increases the lethality of other drugs, particularly opioids or benzodiazepines. As a result, even insincere “cry for help” suicide attempts are much more likely to be deadly.
How Can the Risk of Substance Abuse-Related Suicides Be Reduced?

FIRST, if your teenager abuses any substance – alcohol, marijuana, inhalants, prescription medications, or illicit drugs DO WHATEVER IT TAKES to get them into treatment. And if you don’t know what to do, hire a state-licensed professional interventionist.

Because addiction is incurable and progressive – it only worsens as time goes by– some call it “a type of chronic suicide”.

SECOND, watch for the  warning signs of suicide.  Experts say that 80% of suicides demonstrated clear warnings prior to the act. If your child makes any statements or exhibits behaviors indicating that they might harm themselves, it is a psychiatric emergency. It is critical that you involve a trained and experienced mental health professional who specializes in the treatment of teens.

Teensavers Treatment Centers – the #1 addiction recovery program in Orange County – focuses on treating teen addictive disorders and mental health struggles. In a safe, therapeutic environment, teenage substance abusers regain their balance in life.

If you have a child who needs help for their alcohol or drug use, call today to get the support you need.

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