Teenage Suicide and Substance Abuse

“Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States; it accounts for more than 34,000 deaths per year,” according to an article written by psychiatrictimes.com. In another article written by canoe.ca, a Canadian health and wellness resource, it states “suicide is the second leading cause of death – following motor vehicle accidents – among teenagers and young adults,” and the use of marijuana, alcohol and other substances may be attributing to those figures.

In a recent study funded by The National Institute of Drug Abuse and conducted by Monitoring The Future – a group from the University of Michigan funded by The National Institute of Drug Abuse – they report, “Illicit drug use among teenagers remains high, largely due to increasing popularity of marijuana.” The article also goes on to state, “Rising marijuana use reflects changing perceptions and attitudes. Historically, as perception of risks goes down, use goes up (and vice versa). Young people are showing less disapproval of marijuana use and decreased perception that marijuana is dangerous. The growing perception of marijuana as a safe drug may reflect recent public discussions over ‘medical marijuana’ and movements to legalize the drug for adult recreational use in some states.”

How Does Suicide Relate to Alcohol and Drug Use?

You may be asking yourself at this point, what is the connection? Marie Bussing-Burks from the National Bureau of Economic Research writes in her article Alcohol and Drug Use Increases Suicidal Behaviors, “Suicidal behavior among college students is lower where the price of beer is higher.” Looking at the issue from a socioeconomic aspect, she uses data from a survey conducted by the University of Southern Illinois’ Core Institute, getting responses from approximately 30,000 students at both private and public colleges across the United States, limiting respondents between the ages of 17 and 24. In the survey “Students were asked how often in the past year they ‘seriously thought about suicide’ or ‘seriously tried to commit suicide’ because of alcohol or drug use. Students were also asked about the number of drinks they consumed in a week, if they were binge drinkers (categorized as five or more drinks in a sitting in the past two weeks), and if they used marijuana or any illegal drugs in the past year. Extensive socioeconomic and demographic information was gathered: gender, age, college class year, grade point average, race, marital status, employment status, campus living arrangement, and parental history of alcohol and drug problems. The Core survey did not measure psychiatric disorders, the most important link between substance abuse and suicidal tendencies. However, the study includes information about students’ smoking, which has been shown to be a correlate of psychiatric disorders and other substance use.”

The study finds that “students who drink or use drugs are much more likely to have suicidal tendencies than those who do not use substances. For example, 8.15 percent of binge drinkers have thought about committing suicide and 2.34 percent report attempting suicide. Similar comparisons hold for students who drink at all, who use marijuana, and who use other illegal drugs. Only 2.34 percent of non-drinkers have thought about committing suicide with only .78 percent attempting suicide.” Sara Markowitz and herco-authors of Substance Use and Suicidal Behaviors Among Young Adults, contend, “It is important to note that these results establish a correlation between substance use and suicidal behaviors, but do not address the issue of causality.”

Its important to note that earlier in the article the authors write ”research does not establish that substance abuse has a causal role in youth’s suicide thoughts or actions. Substance abuse can cause social isolation, low self-esteem, loss of work or school, estrangement from family and friends – all events that can build a core of stresses that may lead to suicidal tendencies. Teenage suicide and substance abuse also can increase impulsiveness and decrease inhibitions, making one more likely to act on suicidal tendencies.”

Reaching Out to Troubled Teens Dealing with Teenage Suicide and Substance Abuse

There are many risk factors that can sometimes be outside of a person’s control, and it’s important to take them into consideration when trying to prevent something as drastic as suicide. Some of them, as highlighted by Canoe Health’s article on Adolescent Suicide, are as follows:

  • divorce
  • a new family formation (e.g., step-parents and step-siblings)
  • moving to a different community
  • physical or sexual abuse
  • emotional neglect
  • exposure to domestic violence
  • alcoholism in the home
  • substance abuse

Its also important to be aware of the warning signs that someone may be at risk of suicide or an attempt, as shown in the same article:

  • withdrawal from family and peers
  • loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities
  • difficulty concentrating on schoolwork
  • neglect of personal appearance
  • obvious changes in personality
  • sadness and hopelessness
  • changes in eating patterns, such as sudden weight loss or gain
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • general lethargy or lack of energy
  • symptoms of clinical depression
  • violent actions, rebellion, or running away
  • drug and alcohol use
  • symptoms that are often related to emotional state (e.g., headaches, fatigue, stomach aches)
  • loss of ability to tolerate praise or rewards

These examples do not take into account the many different psychological disorders that are commonly linked to suicide and suicide attempts. The more knowledge you have at your disposal, the better your chances of battling this terrible affliction.

Teenage suicide and substance abuse is a very serious matter, and should be treated as such in any attempt or conversation. If there is someone in your life dealing with contemplating suicide, it’s important to seek immediate help and counseling, because treating this casually may lead to life-altering changes for problems that will always have better solutions.

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