A word about substance abuse, addiction and suicide

Research tells us the following:
• Drugs and alcohol increase the risk of death by suicide more than six times.
• The largest risk factors for suicidal thoughts are depression and other mental disorders, and substance abuse.
• More than one in three people who die from suicide are intoxicated, most commonly with alcohol or opiates (i.e., heroin, oxycodone).

Addiction is a brain disorder, not merely a matter of willpower. The brain is held hostage by drugs and alcohol. It is a real disease that is both cunning and baffling. And, it is treatable.

The abuse of substances, drugs and/or alcohol, leads to ignoring your responsibilities, taking risks, relationship problems, and potential legal issues. You are using substances without concern for their impact. It’s a bit like you have begun an unhealthy love affair. You are not quite yourself; you don’t care what others say, and you become more and more entranced with your new “love.” Slowly, and most certainly, you hand your power over to the substances of your choice.

Full-blown addiction harms the body, makes changes in the brain, results in poor life choices, and batters relationships. Addiction also increases feelings of self-hate, shame, isolation, and scheming behaviors. It erodes the spirit. Your life totally revolves around making connections, getting the substance of your choice, using that substance, and recovering from its use. Yet, you continue to use the drugs and/or alcohol even though you know it is bad for you. You are powerless, and the substances now own you.

Why do suicide, substance abuse, and addiction frequently go hand-in-hand?

We know that substance abuse changes us physically, emotionally, and mentally in these ways:

• Decreases inhibitions and lowers defenses
• Increases aggressiveness and violent behavior
• Impairs judgment
• Increases impulsivity. (Adolescents and young adults, especially, feel “bullet-proof,” and that nothing bad could ever happen to them.)
• Amplifies emotional responses such as hopelessness, despair, shame, and abandonment
• Increases and exacerbates emotional fragility already present within certain populations, i.e., those who are dual diagnosed (mental illness + substance abuse) and those suffering with PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI)

We know that substance abuse changes the brain. It impacts thoughts, feelings, and actions. Frequently, substance abuse is an anesthetic, a maladaptive habit-pattern, a coping response for stress, pain, and unhappiness. For the emotionally vulnerable person, substance abuse is akin to a match near a can of gasoline. There is a much greater potential for disaster.

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