Substance use abuse, including the use of cigarette, alcohol, marijuana, and other illegal drugs, is a type of risky behavior among adolescents and young adults, while suicidal ideation is defined as thoughts of harming or killing oneself (Institute of Medicine, 2002).

The most common situations or life events that might cause suicidal thoughts are grief, sexual abuse, financial problems, remorse, rejection, a relationship breakup, and unemployment.

Fig. 1.1: A Bar chart showing the relationship between substance abuse and thoughts of suicide (

Substance use and suicidal ideation often co-exist, with higher rates of suicidal ideation among substance users than nonusers. Abusing drugs, especially depressants such as alcohol or sedatives, can trigger symptoms of depression, increasing the risk of suicide. As the consequences of addiction pile up, from legal problems and damaged relationships to financial ruin and job loss, individuals may lose all hope that things can get better.

Substance use may increase the risk of suicide ideation because substance use may induce depressed feelings, decrease abilities of cognitive processing and problem solving, and influence important relationships and school/work performance (Bagge and Sher, 2008). Anyone who experiences low lows (bipolar disorder) and attempts to mitigate those feelings with alcohol and drugs is at an increased risk of suicide attempts. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says that substance abuse is one of the top risk factors for suicide.

Secondly, although less considered, suicidal ideation may increase the risk of substance use (Bagge and Sher, 2008). Many people abuse drugs or alcohol in an attempt to relieve the symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions. For some, it starts to seem like there are only two paths to relief: abusing substances or death.

People with substance use disorders are about six times more likely to commit suicide than the general population (Carolyn C. R., 2014). Under the influence of drugs or alcohol, people may lose inhibitions and take risks they ordinarily would not.

Substance abuse not only increases the likelihood that a person will take their own life, but it is also used as a means for committing suicide. Roughly one in three people who die from suicide are under the influence of drugs, typically opiates such as oxycodone or heroin, or alcohol. Poisoning is the third-leading method used in suicide deaths, and drugs make up 75 percent of suicide deaths due to poisoning (Carolyn C. R., 2014).

In summary, substance use and suicidal ideation often co-exist, with higher rates of suicidal ideation among substance users than nonusers. This is as a result of the psychological and physical effect caused by depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions on the individual.

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