August 15, 2023

The Link Between Suicide and Substance Abuse

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The connection between substance abuse and suicide is nuanced. Addiction significantly amplifies an individual’s susceptibility to suicide, while the presence of suicidal thoughts and tendencies also heightens a person’s vulnerability to addiction. Raising awareness of this delicate issue could save lives. If you have a loved one who is living under the shadow of drug addiction and suicide, read on to discover:

  • Why are substance abuse and suicide linked?
  • How to initiate recovery from suicidal depression.
  • Addiction and suicide in Southern California: how to connect with help before it’s too late.

There is a strong correlation between depression and suicide as well as between substance abuse and suicide. Research shows that as many as 90% of those who die by suicide have a mental health disorder like depression or substance use disorder (addiction). This intertwined relationship sets the stage for a damaging cycle where depression and substance abuse feed into one another, often culminating in tragic outcomes.

Those grappling with severe depression, stemming from conditions like MDD (major depressive disorder) or bipolar disorder, frequently self-medicate symptoms with alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs. Although potentially offering fleeting relief, self-medicating symptoms does nothing to address the underlying issue and will ultimately inflame the mental health condition while introducing a new problem in the form of substance abuse. Beyond this, self-medicating the symptoms of depression with addictive substances significantly amplifies the likelihood of nurturing suicidal thoughts – this is known as suicidal ideation. Additionally, the dangerous combination of addiction and depression often yields collateral damage, eroding familial, professional, personal, and financial relationships, and subsequently elevating the risk of suicide.

Compounding these challenges, many addictive substances impede sound judgment, serving as catalysts for impulsive behaviors, including suicide attempts.

Brain Chemistry

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Substance abuse, whether through alcohol, drugs, or prescription medications, has a profound impact on the delicate balance of neurotransmitters and reward pathways in the brain. The brain’s natural pleasure and reward systems are disrupted, leading individuals to begin compulsively using substances.

This imbalance in brain chemistry triggered by substance abuse can have far-reaching consequences. Feelings of joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction become contingent on the presence of the addictive substance, a shift that has a powerful influence on overall well-being. As the brain adapts to these changes, the pursuit of substances becomes a central focus, overshadowing other aspects of life.

Complications extend beyond the realm of addiction itself, though. The disruption of brain chemistry can manifest as feelings of hopelessness, despair, and emotional distress, all hallmarks of an increased vulnerability to suicide. The brain’s altered state, driven by substance abuse, can create an environment where suicidal thoughts may occur.


Genetic predisposition plays a significant role in shaping an individual’s susceptibility to both substance abuse and suicidal tendencies. A family history of addiction or suicide can increase the likelihood of a person encountering these challenges. Shared genetic markers can predispose certain individuals to be more prone to the allure of addictive substances or more vulnerable to the grip of depressive episodes.

The relationship between genetics, substance abuse, and suicide is multi-dimensional. It is not just a matter of inheriting a single gene but rather an intricate interplay of multiple genetic factors that contribute to overall vulnerability. Genetic predisposition is not deterministic, then. Instead, genetics is one factor that interacts with various environmental influences to shape a person’s profile for addiction and suicide. Factors like ACEs (adverse childhood experiences), trauma, social environment, and access to resources all intersect with genetic predispositions to influence risk for suicide and drugs addiction.

What Drugs Increase the Risk of Suicide?

While the abuse of any addictive substance may increase the risk of suicide, alcohol, opioids, and sedatives are especially damaging in this regard.

  1. Alcohol: The sedative effects of alcohol can amplify feelings of depression and hopelessness, making individuals more susceptible to suicidal ideation. Also, alcohol can lower inhibitions, increasing the likelihood of impulsive behaviors, including suicide attempts.
  2. Opioids: Opioids, known for their pain-relieving properties, also carry the potential to induce a sense of emotional numbness. This numbness, coupled with the potential for addiction, can inflame feelings of despair and isolation, further intensifying the risk of suicide.
  3. Sedatives: Similarly, sedative medications can lead to a state of emotional blunting, making it difficult for individuals to process their emotions effectively. This emotional detachment, combined with the potential for physical dependence, forms a precarious cocktail that can contribute to suicidal tendencies.

Getting Help for Suicidal Ideation and Substance Abuse

Here is how to get help if you or a loved one are battling thoughts of suicide triggered or inflamed by substance abuse:

  • Reach out for support: The journey toward healing begins by reaching out to trusted individuals, whether it’s friends, family, or mental health professionals. Having a support system that understands the nuances of both suicidal ideation and substance abuse will help create a safe and non-judgmental environment.
  • Seek professional assistance: Enlisting the expertise of mental health professionals who specialize in dual diagnosis treatment is crucial. These professionals are equipped to address the complex interplay between substance abuse and suicidal tendencies, providing tailored interventions and strategies.
  • Engage with therapy: Therapy, whether individual or group-based, serves as a cornerstone of healing from addiction and suicidal ideation. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) are effective in addressing both substance abuse and suicidal thoughts by providing coping mechanisms, emotional regulation tools, and healthier ways to navigate challenges.
  • Explore MAT (medication-assisted treatment): In some cases, MAT (medication-assisted treatment) may be recommended. Under the guidance of medical professionals, certain medications can help manage both substance cravings and emotional distress, contributing to a more stable foundation for recovery.
  • Practice holistic therapies: Holistic therapies like mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and art therapy, can play a pivotal role in healing. These practices foster emotional awareness, self-compassion, and provide healthy outlets for processing emotions.
  • Develop a comprehensive aftercare plan: Addiction is a chronic and relapsing condition. Recovery is an ongoing journey, and a comprehensive aftercare plan is essential for sustained well-being. This plan may include regular therapy sessions, support groups, and strategies for managing triggers and stressors.
  • Prioritize self-care: Self-care is a powerful tool when navigating the challenges of suicidal ideation and substance abuse. Engaging in activities that bring joy, practicing healthy habits, and nurturing a strong support network contribute to resilience and recovery.

Remember: help is available, and the journey toward healing is possible. Read on to discover how you can connect your loved one with compassionate care in Southern California.

woman looking down representing suicide and substance abuse


Is there a link between taking meth and suicide?

Yes, there is a link between taking meth and an increased risk of suicide. Meth use can lead to changes in brain chemistry, mood disorders, and impulsive behavior, all of which contribute to a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and actions.

How can someone get help for suicidal thoughts?

If someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts, they should seek help immediately. They can reach out to a mental health professional, a helpline like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or confide in a loved one.

Can drugs increase the risk for suicide?

Yes, drug abuse can increase the risk of suicide. Substance abuse affects brain chemistry, exacerbates mental health issues, impairs judgment, and increases impulsivity, all contributing to a higher likelihood of suicidal behavior.

How can I help my loved one with suicidal thoughts and addiction?

If you have a loved one struggling with both suicidal thoughts and addiction, approach the situation with care and compassion. Encourage them to seek professional help by engaging with a therapist or counselor experienced in treating dual diagnosis – the co-occurrence of addictions and mental health conditions. Offer your support, listen without judgment, and help them find appropriate treatment options.

Treatment for Suicide and Substance Abuse

Dual diagnosis treatment involves a range of therapeutic modalities that work cohesively to address both the psychological and addiction components of the dual diagnosis.

Integrated therapy, which combines mental health counseling with addiction treatment allows therapists with expertise in both areas to provide tailored sessions that address the underlying triggers, traumas, and emotional struggles that contribute to both suicidal tendencies and substance abuse.

For those grappling with addiction and mental health disorders, MAT can be an invaluable component of a comprehensive treatment plan. By integrating medications that alleviate withdrawal symptoms and stabilize mood, MAT helps manage both the physical and emotional challenges that often arise during recovery.

Cognitive behavioral therapy equips individuals with valuable tools to reshape negative thought patterns and behaviors. This approach empowers clients to recognize triggers for suicidal thoughts and substance use, teaching healthier coping mechanisms in response.

Dialectical behavior therapy emphasizes mindfulness, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. This approach aids in managing intense emotions, often found at the core of both substance abuse and suicidal tendencies.

Group therapy provides a platform for individuals to connect, share experiences, and build a sense of community. Sharing common struggles with peers who understand both the challenges of addiction and the weight of mental health issues can foster understanding, empathy, and solidarity.

Holistic therapies like yoga, meditation, and art therapy, offer alternative ways to cope with stress, anxiety, and emotional turmoil. These practices promote self-awareness, relaxation, and inner balance, which are essential in maintaining long-term recovery. Holistic therapies are always most effective when combined with evidence-based interventions.

Transitioning from intensive treatment to everyday life requires ongoing support. Aftercare programs provide continued therapy, relapse prevention strategies, and a safety net during moments of vulnerability.

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Get Compassionate Care for Mental Health and Addiction at Gratitude Lodge

At Gratitude Lodge in Southern California, we’re dedicated to helping people struggling with both addiction and mental health challenges. Our rehabilitation centers, located in Newport Beach and Long Beach, CA, offer a holistic approach to recovery that addresses the well-being of the whole person rather than treating only their symptoms.

Our closely supervised medical detox program ensures a safe and comprehensive journey through detoxification and continued recovery. Once your body is free from addictive substances, you can seamlessly transition into our 30-day inpatient program.

Our comprehensive treatment protocols encompass the following therapeutic approaches:

If you’re seeking a path from active addiction to sustained recovery, you can place your confidence in Gratitude Lodge. Contact our admissions team at 800-994-2184 to begin your journey toward healing.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Busse MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox, facilitating the beginnings of a successful recovery at our rehab addiction centers in Orange County, CA.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse. Alcohol detox may not take as long or produce severe withdrawal symptoms, but it is still an essential beginning to your recovery.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse.
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Holistic Therapy

Our holistic therapy treatments offer a full-scope approach to recovery, addressing your mind, body, and emotions as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. This therapy is designed to help address underlying issues and integrate alternative therapies to promote overall health and well-being.
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An essential part of your treatment experience, we offer individual (CBT and DBT talk therapy) and group addiction treatment counseling to help you explore and address the emotional component of addiction, providing you with the tools, self-awareness, and empowerment you need to maintain recovery.
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Dual Diagnosis

Dual Diagnosis is a highly effective addiction treatment that addresses substance use and mental health disorders simultaneously. Often co-occurring, these disorders are best managed when treated together with specific and targeted therapy.
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Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-Assisted Treatment provides you with FDA-approved medications to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal while you’re in treatment. This makes the detox process easier and safer, as well as increasing the chances of a successful recovery.
an image of clients outside after getting help at Gratitude Lodge's rehab in Long Beach, California

Sober Living

Sober living provides a supportive and substance-free living environment for your ongoing recovery. We partner with a number of upscale and carefully vetted sober living homes that are available to our clients after inpatient alcohol and drug addiction treatment.
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Outpatient Treatment

Once detox and inpatient are complete, we provide an easy transition to outpatient care through our hand-selected partners. This program offers a more flexible approach, allowing you to ease back in to daily life while still receiving frequent & effective care.
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Inpatient treatment provides an intensive and comprehensive addiction treatment program in a structured environment. You will receive 24/7 expert care, therapy, and support as you build your foundation for long-term recovery.
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Drug & Alcohol Detox

A crucial first step in the recovery process, our detox program provides a comfortable, medically supervised environment that addresses the physical aspect of addiction and eliminates substances from your body.

Use Our 24 Hour text line. You can ask questions about our program, the admissions process, and more.