Suicide is the number one cause of death among drug addicts and alcoholics. Alcoholics are ten times more likely to commit suicide than those in the general population; those who shoot drugs are fourteen times more likely to die.
Since alcohol reduces inhibition, depresses mood, and can cause the patient to focus on the current situation without considering the long-term consequences, the chances of suicidal behavior is increased. In fact, acutely high levels of alcohol are present in the blood of approximately 40% of people that both attempt suicide and successfully carry it out. While we have no real way of knowing how many of these people accidentally overdosed, there is no evidence to suggest that the number would be statistically signficant.
Addiction professionals who operate drug rehabs must pay particular attention to self-harm issues, as patients who are currently in drug rehab have a higher risk of suicidal behavior than the general population. This may be because drug addicts and alcoholics typically enter rehab only when their addiction is out of control; advanced substance abuse carries with it many factors which increase the likelihood of suicide. Patients also resist entering drug rehab until aspects of their lives are in danger of irreparable harm such as a marriage, family, job or criminal record. This may lead them to feelings of hopelessness and the impulse to self-harm.
Another factor that increases the prevalence of suicidal patients at drug rehab is that substance abusers are more likely to have co-occurring mental health issues such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety – issues that, in and of themselves, carry a greater risk for suicide. In addition, patients suffering from depression may be more likely to enter drug rehab when their depression is at its most significant; unfortunately, severe depression also increases the risk of suicide.
Although the above makes it seem as if going to drug rehab makes patients attempt suicide, nothing could be further from the truth. The type of patient described above will experience suicidal thoughts no matter where they are. In fact, it is likely safer for them to be attending a drug rehab than being out on their own. Drug rehabs employ mental health professionals who are trained in detecting the signs of suicidal thoughts or behaviors and know how to intervene.
While the above examples concern a patient’s already compromised mental state or co-occurring mental disorder, it is true that a small percent of patients will experience an increased risk of suicide at drug rehab due to the very nature of the treatment itself. For instance, patients who relapse or encounter difficulties during the treatment process may turn to self-harm to deal with their feelings of hopelessness or failure. In addition, transitions during drug rehab, such as from inpatient to outpatient, can increase suicide risk especially if the transition is problematic. In the end, however, many of these patients would ultimately die from their addictions without treatment – avoiding drug rehab altogether is no way to reduce the risk of permanent injury or death.
Due to the increased risk of suicide during drug rehab, addiction professionals must be constantly aware of a patient’s present mood and be able to predict negative reactions to things that typically happen in treatment. In order to minimize the chances that a patient will attempt to harm themselves during drug rehab, intake professionals must screen potential clients for suicidal thoughts or behaviors; such screenings should be repeated during the entire period of treatment. Drug rehab staff should develop and implement treatment plans specifically designed to address suicidal thoughts or behaviors as soon as they are detected. This requires that all employees at a given drug rehab attain basic training about suicide warning signs, risk factors and management techniques.
Suicide, or the taking of one’s own life, is not the only result that drug rehab patients may seek to achieve. Non-suicidal self-injury, or deliberate self-harm, can include self-mutilation (such as cutting) not because the patient wants to die but rather because he or she wishes to find relief or self-soothe. Although these patients do not intend suicide, sometimes the intensity of the behavior may inadvertantly lead to serious bodily injury or death. Drug rehab staff who observe evidence of current or former self-mutilation should take steps to ensure that the entire treatment team is aware of the potential for further injury.