Teen Addiction and Suicide

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In 2000, the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse identified a strong link in teenagers between drug/alcohol use and the risk of suicide.1 Follow up studies have continued to show a strong link.

Suicide is the third most common cause of death among 15 to 24 year-olds, with about 4 times as many males as females dying by their own hand in the 15 to 19 year-old range.2

For every actual death by suicide, there are 100 to 200 suicide attempts. Clearly there is a serious problem.

Learn More About Addiction in Teens and Treatment Options

What is the link between suicide and addiction?

People who commit suicide generally do so because they feel there is no other option. Life for them has become painful and they can see no path to improvement. There may be other reasons for a suicide attempt (mental illness, punishing loved ones) but the primary reason is a deep and abiding sense of hopelessness.

If there is one hallmark of addiction other than physical need, it is the sense that one’s life is out of control and there is no escape. The drug of abuse has the addict in chains stronger than any prison, stronger than any tyrant – it is a slavery that binds their entire being. This is a profound and enduring hopelessness.

Worse still, addicts who undergo withdrawal will have bouts of depression. Even after they manage to stop using, it takes a significant time to return to a normal mental state. Drugs alter our brains in significant ways and when the depression hits – even when they are not using – addicts may fear they will never become normal again. This too results in a sense of being trapped and helpless.

Finally, some addicts became addicted because they started using drugs to combat pre-existing depression. Whether they felt trapped in a life that hadn’t worked out as expected, or just weren’t enjoying life, they started using as a way to escape. But the escape into drug abuse just leads to deeper problems. Suicide may be seen as the only way out.

What should I do?

If you or someone you know is considering suicide – take it seriously. Listen without judging when someone talks about suicide and find a way to get professional help. Suicide is seen as the only way out of a hopeless situation they need help to see the alternatives, a second opinion.

If you believe someone may act, do not leave them alone. Emergency help is available by calling 911. Remove access to firearms (the number one way people kill themselves) and motor vehicles.

Remember that drug abuse is just one of the major risk factors for suicide. Others are: highly stressful events (job loss, death of a loved one), mental illness and depression. It is appropriate to ask someone who seems depressed about whether or not they have thought about suicide. This might be the only opportunity to intervene and save a life.

If you are thinking of hurting yourself, or if you are concerned that someone else may be suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).3

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