People Engaged in Illicit Drug Use at Higher Risk for Suicide

Suicide is a great tragedy. It not only ends a life which may have been healed, but it devastates families and extended communities. Anguish over missed signals and an inability to help can haunt those who remain for years. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issued its latest report on drug use in America, finding that drug abuse is one of the leading risk factors for suicide.

Every year SAMHSA conducts a rigorous scientific survey of Americans over the age of 12 to find out about who is using drugs, why they are using drugs, how much they are using and with what consequences. The newly released report, the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings, surveyed 70,000 participants, finding that adult Americans who take illicit drugs face a significantly higher risk of suicide compared to the general population.

According to the SAMHSA report, 3.9 percent of the adult population (9 million people) seriously considered taking their own life during the previous year. As staggering as that is, the survey found that among illicit drug users the rate was 9.4 percent – more than double the general public’s rate.

The findings make it plain that suicide risk isn’t shared equally among all illicit drug users:

As the above illustrates, sedative abusers are more than twice as likely to consider ending their own life as people who were abusing marijuana or some other drug not listed. Other studies find that being a drug user of any kind makes it six times more likely that a person will attempt suicide or will seriously consider doing so over people who do not use drugs.

Men are four times more likely to consider suicide than women, and older men with a substance abuse problem are the most likely to make an attempt or succeed in ending their own life. Women with a substance abuse problem are 6.5 times likelier than sober women.

Soldiers with a substance abuse issue are 2.3 times more likely to die through suicide than non-drug-using veterans. With a large number of soldiers slated to return home over the course of the coming year, understanding drug use as a suicide risk is of key importance.

SAMHSA provides a registry of evidence-based suicide prevention programs. Medical and mental health professionals need to become more familiar with these programs. In addition, SAMHSA offers a 24-hour hotline – the National Suicide Prevention Hotline – so those in serious distress may talk to someone at any time at no charge.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 36,000 Americans ended their own lives in 2010. These are preventable deaths. They are deaths that affect those connected and even many not directly connected to them. Numerous studies have shown that depression and mood disorders are the greatest suicide risk. This new report reveals that illicit drug use is also one of the leading risk factors for suicide. If the country needed another reason to get serious about curbing drug abuse and preventing unnecessary deaths, this is it.