Substance Use Disorders and Suicide
Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.
Hilary S. Connery, MD, PhD, McLean Hospital, presents as part of the 2022 Suicide-Focused Assessment and Treatment: An Update for Professionals course.
Addiction and Suicide
Suicide risk is elevated in connection to substance misuse. In this talk, Connery expresses the importance of integrating treatment for substance use disorders with that for other mental health conditions. She offers considerations clinicians should make when working with people who struggle with addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Watch now to learn more about:
- Why substance use disorder patients are at a high risk of suicide
- Why suicide deaths may be misclassified as overdoses
- How clinicians can prevent and treat suicidal behavior in patients who struggle with addiction
Connery works with a very high-risk population of alcohol use disorder, opioid use disorder, and stimulant use disorder patients. “Many of them have severe substance use disorder, but they’re also quite hopeless and despairing, and are at significantly elevated suicide risk,” she states.
Substance use disorder patients, and particularly opioid use disorder patients, are at very high risk for suicide overall.
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Connery shares, “We may have a significant portion of the deaths in the so-called accidental drug overdose category that are actually misclassified suicides.”
She explains that the suicidal thoughts a person who uses opioids may be experiencing can be dimensional.
For example, someone may appreciate that there’s a risk of death, but does not think it is likely they’re going to die because they’re misusing opioids. Someone else may be ambivalent: sometimes wanting to die, and sometimes not wanting to die. Or a person can be in a hopeless state and think, ‘Today I’m going to die because my life is pointless.’
Connery discusses research she and colleagues conducted with patients who were in withdrawal. Patients were asked how strongly they wanted to die before the overdose, and if they were trying to kill themselves. Of those surveyed, 20% indicated having a desire to die, and 5% stated that they were actively trying to kill themselves.
All substance misuse is significantly associated with increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors. People with alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder have 10 to 15 times higher rates of suicide deaths compared to the general population.