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The Link Between Drug Use and Teen Suicide

Teenagers often resort to drug use as a cry for help. Underlying psychological factors such as depression are present in a number of these cases. If your teen is using drugs and seems depressed, they may be at risk for committing suicide. It's essential you get help now. Call us.

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6 min read

Stats and Trends

Young adults can be a suicide risk

Around 10% of American kids hurt themselves intentionally at some point — doing everything from scratching their skin to burning themselves with fire — and suicide is the third-leading cause of death for kids aged 10–14 (and the second for young people aged 15–24). Unfortunately, those aren’t typos. Children as young as 6 take part in self-harming behaviors in the United States. It happens in rich families and poor families alike, in every corner of the country. As kids develop relationships with drugs or alcohol, their chances of suicide increase.

It’s important to identify the signs of addiction and address the situation as early as you can. Allowing drug dependencies to continue increases the chances things can snowball into catastrophic mental illnesses. And they often coincide with suicidal thinking or behavior.

In the U.S.:

  • 117 people die from suicide each day (42,773 total in 2014)
  • 494,000 people visited the hospital for self-harm in 2014
  • Among youth, there are 25 suicide attempts for every completed attempt
  • 50% of suicides involve firearms
  • While males represent nearly 78% of all successful suicides, females attempt suicide more often

In 2010:

  • 33.4% of suicide decedents tested positive for alcohol
  • 23.8% tested positive for antidepressants
  • 20% tested positive for opiates, such as heroin and prescription painkillers

Among high school students in 2013:

  • 17% seriously considered attempting suicide (22.4% of females and 11.6% of males)
  • 13.6% made a plan for how they would attempt suicide
  • 8% attempted suicide one or more times within the previous 12 months
  • 2.7% suffered a serious injury, poisoning or overdose as a result of a suicide attempt
  • Hispanic students had a higher rate of suicidal thinking, planning and attempts than white and black students
  • American Indian/Alaska Native adolescents are even more at risk — the suicide rate among these teens is 1.5 times the national average

In regards to teen substance use:

  • Between 1.5 and 2 million teens in the U.S. meet the criteria for substance addiction
  • 16–19 year-old females who abuse alcohol are 6 times as likely to be depressed
  • Teens with an alcohol dependence are at a greater risk for suicide
  • 90% of teens who are suicidal have a substance use disorder (i.e. destructive psychological relationships with drugs or alcohol)
  • 20% of non-traffic injury deaths involving alcohol intoxication are suicides
  • Teens using marijuana on a daily basis are 7 times more likely to die from suicide

Whether or not teens are overtly suicidal, the disorienting effects of substance use can cause them to act out in potentially fatal ways. In 2014, a Colorado teen jumped 4 stories to his death after consuming an entire marijuana-laced cookie or “edible” — more than 5 times the average dosage. His death was ruled an accident. Marijuana is used by 35% of U.S. 12th graders each year.

Risk Factors

adolescent depression

We cannot predict when a child considers or attempts suicide. But as a parent, you can identify various risks, and attempt to intervene in their lives before they attempt any form of self-harm.

Risk factors for teen suicide, as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include:

  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Family history of suicide
  • Cultural and religious beliefs
  • Being mistreated by family
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Isolation or being cut off from others
  • Local epidemics of suicide
  • Personal loss (e.g. death in the family, a serious break-up)
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Physical illness

Parental factors such as low income, unemployment, poor schooling and divorce increase the risk of suicide in children. A history of substance abuse or mental illness, whether personally or in the family, also increased the likelihood of suicidal thinking. If mental health problems are present, the inability to access mental health treatment can exacerbate the problem.

Co-Occurring Disorders

co-occurring depression

According to one major study, more than 90% of young people who die from suicide have been diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder. In cases of dual diagnosis — when a mental disorder co-occurs with an existing substance use disorder — the compounding effects can wreak havoc on a child.

Mental health disorders — including ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, as well as major depression — can lend to feelings of hopelessness and isolation. Depression (or major depressive disorder) is by far the most common, and around two-thirds of teens who die from suicide are depressed at the time of their death. These disorders can also impact a teen’s physical health, school performance and social interactions, which can compound into risk factors for suicidality.

Young Man in Park with Depression

You have the ability to identify mental health disorders at an early stage. Some signs are more obvious than others, and it may require some digging around if you believe something is wrong. But the earlier you catch a potential mental illness, the faster you can get the necessary help for your son or daughter. Taking time to understand your teen, finding ways to communicate about drugs, and supporting them through their difficulties can help deter them from damaging thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Does Your Child Need Rehab?

If your child has been dealing with substance addiction and seems depressed, meet with their doctor to discuss the matter. When left untreated, addiction brings with it an increased risk of suicide. Take action immediately to keep your child safe.

If you don’t know where to begin, we at TeenRehabCenter.org can help. Just give us a call. We’re a group of compassionate addiction professionals who have helped many other parents who have been in your situation. We’ve seen teenagers’ lives change forever, often through rehab — we want the same for yours. Whether you’d like a list of vetted facilities that specialize in treating teen addiction, or you just want to talk, we’re here for you. There’s no cost, no pressure — just help. Call today and start down the path of recovery for your child.

If your child threatens suicide or mentions a desire to die, immediately call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Do not delay.

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