The statistics can paint a grim picture of heavy overlap between substance abuse disorders and increased risk for suicide. It’s not uncommon for people to experience suicidal ideation for the first time as they navigate the process of breaking free of addiction and working towards recovery. For this reason, having a strong support system in place is a crucial part of your preparations for getting sober and staying sober. Even if you haven’t struggled with suicidal thoughts so far, it’s important to protect yourself in the event that it occurs.
Co-Occurring Disorders and Rates of Overlap
It’s been widely reported that 85-90% of people who attempt suicide struggle with depression, substance abuse, or both. 90% of people who attempt suicide have at least one psychiatric disorder at the time of the attempt, including substance abuse disorders. Opiates, including heroin and prescription painillers, are present in 20% of suicide deaths in the United States. Heavy alcohol use has been extensively linked to increased risk of suicide attempts, with 22% of suicide deaths in the United States involving alcohol intoxication.
“Co-occurring disorders” is the medical term for when a person has a substance abuse disorder, such as drug addiction or alcohol dependency, alongside one or more other psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or depression. While most people associate depression with an increased risk of suicide, other factors that can sometimes even more directly lead to the same danger include disorders characterized by severe anxiety or agitation, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or poor impulse control, like substance abuse disorders.
Recognizing the Warning Signs
Nobody knows you like yourself. If you’re beginning to experience destructive thoughts, it’s important that you perceive them honestly and take action before they lead to destructive behavior. Some of the most common precursors to suicide attempts are self-harm, extreme emotional states, and suicidal ideation–a blanket term that includes thinking about, considering, or planning suicide. Additionally, each person has their own psychological weak points and symptoms of struggle. You are your own first line of defense when negative feelings appear, which is why it’s so important for you to be ready to spring into action as though you’re protecting yourself from a hostile takeover–because in some ways, you are.
The other half of catching yourself before you do anything dangerous is to have a social safety net in place. Part of your acute recovery should be to make a prevention plan: a set series of steps for you to follow in the event that you experience a mental emergency which would otherwise cause you to make destructive decisions like you might in the past. A prevention plan is something you can keep somewhere like your nightstand, wallet, or under your bed–wherever you know it will be when you need it. Your plan should outline a step-by-step process that you must follow in a time of crisis. It might include calling your sponsor or therapist to talk you through, going to a location where you can get help or find respite, or, if all else fails, calling an ambulance. The goal of your prevention plan is to catch you as you fall before you hit rock bottom. You can make it back from just about anything, as long as you’re there to make it back.
Training Yourself to Break Free
A component of your long-term wellbeing is developing healthier practices to break yourself out of these destructive cycles. As you work with your counselor, sponsor, or 12-Step peers, it’s important to acknowledge destructive thoughts and tendencies instead of trying to suppress them. Hiding or ignoring your destructive ideation only forces it to emerge in other, less controlled ways. Instead, put your complicated feelings out in the open, once you’re in a context you trust enough to do so. From there, it will not only become easier to address them step-by-step, but it will allow you to create accountability to whomever you share yourself with so that you can turn to them for encouragement and assistance in the future.
Treating a Medical Emergency
While this article may contain suggestions for how to catch yourself or get help if you need it, at the end of the day, suicidal ideation can quickly become a medical emergency from which there is no turning back if you don’t get swift intervention. Do not be concerned with feelings of shame, hopelessness, or despair–if you perceive intense destructive urges rising up in you and you don’t think it will help to talk it out or follow a prevention plan, act now and get professional help immediately. Don’t give yourself the chance to make a dangerous mistake that you can’t undo. Reach out to a medical professional right away.
Suicidal ideation is often a sign that part of you is isolated and struggling, and it can be difficult to know how to even begin to bridge that gap and reach out for help. You don’t have to struggle alone and, once you’re ready for help, it can make a world of difference to be around people who you trust to care for you when you might not be able to care for yourself. At Cornerstone Healing Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, we know that recovery is a lifelong process and that everyone needs help. Leaving addiction behind can come with pitfalls and challenges. Let us connect you with personalized care, create a treatment plan that fits your unique needs, and establish a foundation of support for you so that you never have to worry about being stuck without help in a time of crisis. Call (800) 643-2108 to learn more.