Drugs and alcohol can have a significant impact on your health. Alcohol misuse alone is the most significant risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year-olds in the UK and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages.1
Illegal and prescription drug abuse is not as widespread but can still be extremely harmful to the individuals involved, impacting both physical and mental health.
There is a complex interaction between substance misuse, addiction, and mental health but do drug and alcohol addictions increase the risk of suicide?
Do Addicts Have a Higher Rate of Suicide?
Many studies have concluded that suicide is much higher among people with an addiction or substance misuse disorder.
One review of available studies published in 1990 found that more than half of all suicides were associated with drug or alcohol dependence and suggested that up to a quarter of alcoholics and drug addicts may commit suicide. Additionally, more than 70% of adolescent suicides could have complications related to substance misuse and addiction.2
The review suggested that feeling hopeless was a key element of suicidal thoughts and behaviour and that addiction and substance misuse added to this sense of hopelessness.
Potential reasons included the manipulation of neurotransmitters responsible for mood and judgement and harming personal relationships and support networks. It concluded that drug and alcohol addiction are high-risk factors for suicidal behaviour, and addicts should be routinely assessed for suicide risk.
A more recent study from 2015 looked at the increased risk of attempted suicide by people addicted to opiates such as heroin. It noted that data from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that more than a million people commit suicide each year, with five to twenty times more attempted suicides.
It states that mental health problems are the most common risk factor for suicide, with 90% of people who commit suicide meeting the diagnostic criteria for one or more psychiatric disorders.
Another significant risk factor of addiction is that people who abuse or are dependent on drugs and alcohol are six times more likely to attempt suicide than people who are not.
When it comes to completed suicide, male addicts are between 2 to 3 times more likely to kill themselves than non-addicts. Female addicts, meanwhile, are between 6.5 to 9 times more likely to commit suicide than women who are not addicted to drugs or alcohol.3
The study also found that addicts will more often attempt suicide by taking an overdose. It also noted that risk factors for suicide in the general population also applied to people with a drug or alcohol dependency.
Mental health issues such as affective disorders (also known as mood disorders) are risk factors in the general population and amongst addicts. The study noted that depressed mood was a particular risk factor.
Link Between Mental Health Disorders and Addiction
There is a documented link between mental health disorders and addiction. A Government report from 2020 found that there were an estimated 589,000 dependent drinkers in England. Of these, around a quarter were likely to be on mental health medication.
These were mainly for depression and anxiety but also included psychosis and bipolar disorder. Many more could also be showing undiagnosed mental health symptoms or not receiving medication for their conditions.
Of the 72,000 people in NHS alcohol treatment programmes the previous year, more than half (55%) said they need help for their mental health, and nearly four-fifths (79%) said they were receiving some sort of support area.
Only 2% reported receiving help through talking therapy services.4
This report also noted the raised risk of death by suicide among people with mental health issues who also had a history of alcohol misuse. Between 2007 and 2017, there were an average of 542 deaths by suicide per year among this group – representing around 10% of all deaths by suicide in England.
Does a Drug or Alcohol Addiction Make You Depressed?
There is a definite and long-established link between addiction and mental health issues. Still, it is not always as straightforward as saying that drinking or using drugs causes a particular mental health problem.
Dual diagnosis is when a mental health condition and addiction co-exist. There can be a complex relationship between substance abuse, addiction, and mental health, each affecting the other differently. The relationship can also change over time, but a person may experience:
- a mental illness that leads to substance misuse
- a substance misuse problem that leads to a mental illness
- two initially unrelated disorders (a mental illness and a substance misuse problem) that interact with and influence each other
- other factors that cause both mental health and substance misuse issues, such as trauma or physical health problems5
In some cases, drug or alcohol addiction can undoubtedly lead to depression or worsen an existing case of depression. In other cases, it may be existing depression that leads to increased drinking or drug use, potentially resulting in addiction.
Get Help and Support for Dual Diagnosis
If you are suffering from both an addiction and a mental health condition, it is usually best to seek help for both and have them treated simultaneously. If you left either side of the equation untreated, this could be storing up trouble further along the line.
An untreated mental health problem could increase the risk of relapsing, while an untreated substance misuse issue could trigger a reoccurrence of the mental health condition.
If any of these issues affect you, it is always best to seek professional help as soon as possible. Get in contact today to find out how we can help or simply for confidential advice, or call on 0800 012 6088.
-  https://alcoholchange.org.uk/alcohol-facts/fact-sheets/alcohol-statistics - https://alcoholchange.org.uk/alcohol-facts/fact-sheets/alcohol-statistics
-  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1932152/ - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1932152/
-  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4499285/ - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4499285/
-  https://ukhsa.blog.gov.uk/2020/11/17/alcohol-dependence-and-mental-health/ - https://ukhsa.blog.gov.uk/2020/11/17/alcohol-dependence-and-mental-health/
-  https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng58/documents/severe-mental-illness-and-substance-misuse-dual-diagnosis-community-health-and-social-care-services-final-scope2 - https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng58/documents/severe-mental-illness-and-substance-misuse-dual-diagnosis-community-health-and-social-care-services-final-scope2