Addiction And Suicide

Addiction and our mental health are inextricably linked. Addiction can develop for a plethora of reasons – but regardless of the specific trigger, addiction is typically associated with intense emotional distress. This emotional distress can be chronic. Addiction is often catalysed by psychological difficulty – however, it can also exacerbate it. What initially can provide a short-term salve or self-soothing purpose can quickly deepen psychological difficulties. This means that individuals dealing with an addiction are often at a particularly high risk of suicide. But how can we recognise suicidal thoughts? Who should you contact if you are dealing with suicidal ideation, and what forms of treatment are best suited in these types of situations?

What is suicide?

Mental Health UK defines suicide as ‘when someone ends their own life.’ One core element of suicide is the presence of intent – suicide occurs when an individual intends on causing their own death. The World Health Organization urge that ‘suicide is a serious public health concern’, with over 700,000 people dying due to suicide annually.

Suicide is different from suicidal ideation or a suicide attempt.

Suicide is when someone takes their own life.

A suicide attempt occurs when someone attempts to take their own life, but the outcome is non-fatal.

Suicidal ideation is when someone is thinking, talking about, planning or otherwise concerned with the suicide. These types of thoughts can be very distressing. Knowing how to identify a thought as an example of suicidal ideation is a very powerful tool in suicide prevention.

What causes suicide?

Many factors could lead to the development of suicidal ideation. The following list represents specific risk factors that may increase the potential of suicide taking place. However, it is important to establish that anyone can experience suicidal thoughts at some point in their life, regardless of background, health and addiction status. Clinicians have stated that individuals who have experienced the following may be more likely to die by suicide:

  • A mental health condition
  • An addiction (particularly a substance use disorder)
  • A previous suicide attempt
  • Exposure to trauma or abuse
  • Exposure to serious injury, accident, or illness
  • Financial or legal difficulties
  • Exposure to discrimination

Symptoms of suicidal thoughts

Suicidal thoughts are not always clear-cut or obvious. They can sometimes be a little bit more abstract or ‘murky’. That is why it is important to be aware of the different ways that these thoughts can manifest. Suicidal thoughts can look like:

  • Feeling that others would be better off without you
  • Feeling that things would be easier if you were no longer alive
  • Thinking about death
  • Thinking about an injury, accident or serious illness occurring
  • Feeling that things will not get any better
  • Making plans or gathering the means to end your life

Suicidal ideation can also colour our feelings and behaviours, leading to:

  • Hopelessness
  • Overwhelm
  • Isolation
  • Desperation
  • Numbness
  • Self-loathing
  • Urges to self-harm
  • Avoidance
  • Giving away your possessions
  • Not looking after yourself
  • Not eating or sleeping

Suicide in the UK: Statistics

Suicide prevention charity Samaritans release reports with ‘the latest suicide data for nations across the UK’ yearly. In their report for 2022, it was noted that in England:

  • There were 5284 deaths by suicide registered 
  • The overall suicide rate was 10 per 100,000
  • For males, the suicide rate was 16.1 per 100,000
  • For females, the suicide rate was 5.3 per 100,000 


In the same year in Wales,

  • There were 339 deaths by suicide registered
  • The overall suicide rate as 12.5 per 100,000
  • For males, the suicide rate was 19.6 per 100,000
  • For females, the suicide rate was 6.0 per 100,000

In Scotland:

  • There were 762 deaths by suicide registered 
  • The overall suicide rate was 13.9 per 100,000
  • Males were almost 3 times as likely to die by suicide as females 
  • The average age for suicide was 48.2 

The link between addiction and suicidal thoughts

Studies indicate that ‘all categories of substance use disorders were associated with increased risk of suicide mortality.’ It was found that addiction is a significant risk factor for suicide ‘even after controlling for other important risk factors.’ This indicates that taking steps towards addiction recovery is a key component of suicide prevention and management of suicidal ideation more generally.

Suicide and alcohol addiction

Research suggests that alcoholism increases suicide risk due to the way that it can catalyse (or exacerbate):

  • social withdrawal
  • ‘breakdown of social bonds’
  • and social marginalisation
  • difficulties at work
  • legal problems

All of these factors can lead to a feeling of exasperation and chronic stress, which can become a catalyst for initial thoughts of suicide. Alcohol addiction is particularly contentious in the context of suicide, as heavy drinking can both lead to the development of suicidal thoughts and also provide individuals with a means for ending their lives.

Suicide and drug addiction

All types of addiction can lead to – or deepen – someone’s relationship to the idea of suicide. However, there are specific substances that are notoriously linked with heightened suicide risk. These are:

  • heroin
  • prescription opioids
  • marijuana
  • cocaine
  • amphetamines

Opioid use disorder is particularly linked with increased suicidality. This is thought to be due to ‘an extreme expression of the negative affective states’ of these types of drugs that can manifest into deep depression, hopelessness, and, in some cases, catatonia.

It can often be hard for the relationship between addiction and suicide to be unravelled. This is because not all deaths linked to substances are intentional. Heavy drug and alcohol use can often be associated with accidental overdose, meaning that it is very difficult to get a concrete picture of the suicide rates associated with addiction.

How can you treat suicidal thoughts and addiction?

Dealing with a combination of suicidal thoughts and symptoms of addiction can be very difficult to manage. If suicidal thoughts are present, support should be sought out regardless of the circumstances. You can seek support in various places, such as by

  • Confiding in a trusted individual 
  • Speaking to your GP
  • Visiting A&E 
  • Attending support groups 
  • Referring yourself to therapy
  • Making contact with a specialist rehab provider 
  • Calling suicide prevention or mental health crisis helplines 

Crisis Helplines:

  • Samaritans (call 116 123)
  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK (call 0800 689 5652)
  • Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) (call 0800 58 58 58)
  • Papyrus Hopeline UK (Call 0800 0684141)
  • SHOUT (text SHOUT to 85268)

You can also call 999 to access emergency services if needed. 

Seek help today

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, it is very important that you speak to someone who can offer you the appropriate care and support. Often, speaking to someone about our feelings can offer a sense of relief and help to distance ourselves from intense thoughts and urges. If you are having suicidal thoughts whilst managing addiction, making contact with a specialist rehab provider can offer you targeted treatment that helps you regulate distress and decrease your current safety risk. When you feel ready, rehab can then assist you in monitoring and managing your well-being on a more long-term basis through tailored support aimed towards addiction recovery.

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