Given the recent media coverage and global impact of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s suicides, there seems to be a national reckoning on the prevalence and pervasiveness of mental health and suicide. A report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasizes that suicide rates have risen dramatically: 30% in half of the United States, with almost 45,000 deaths in 2016 alone. Perhaps even more chilling is that data indicates that the problem continues to worsen.
Yet in these discussions and analyses, there is often a deafening silence about the strong symbiosis of addiction and depression—notwithstanding that statistics have revealed that most of the people who committed suicide had alcohol, or some type of mind-altering drug, in their blood: including opioids and benzodiazepines. It’s worth noting that The New York Times published an extensive list of “What to Do When a Loved One Is Severely Depressed,” including some seemingly valuable advice. Nevertheless, the lengthy article did not once reference the frequent, critical role that alcohol and drugs often play in suicides.
The Correlation Between Suicide And Addiction
Mark Ilgen, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, specifically studies ways to improve treatment for substance use disorders, and the correlation between substance use and suicide risk. “There’s a complicated relationship between drug and alcohol use, mood, and suicidal thinking and behaviors,” Ilgen says. “What we know is that if someone has a drug or alcohol problem, they’re much more likely to have suicidal thoughts, to make a non-fatal suicide attempt and to die by suicide.” Ilgen further stresses that for many people with substance use disorders, a suicidal crisis can happen very suddenly.
Because of the rapidly growing opioid public health crisis, America has also seen surging rates of overdoses. National Institute on Drug Abuse statistics indicate that in 2016, there were more than 64,000 drug overdoses. While many of the deaths were likely accidental, many were suicides—particularly given the fact that opioid use is sometimes associated with at least a 40% increased likelihood of suicidal thought, and a 75% increased likelihood of suicidal attempt.
The First Step
When I personally attend 12-step meetings, I regularly hear fellow alcoholics and addicts discuss suicidal ideations—and even overt attempts—during active addiction. During my own stints of heroin addiction, I considered the possibility of suicide. There were several times that I could have easily overdosed from the sheer amount of drugs I was ingesting, a fact about which I remember feeling fairly apathetic…if not slightly pleased. While I am not diagnosed with clinical depression, I—like many, if not most, addicts—suffered from suicidal depression caused by addiction and substance abuse. Not only was I almost radically self-destructive, but I also felt consumed by my substance use. It’s not for nothing that a clinical, medical detox is only the first step in getting clean & sober; one cannot begin long-term recovery or therapy until the mind is (admittedly, somewhat) clear.
The Recent Tragedies Recounted
There are conflicting accounts surrounding whether or not Kate Spade had a drinking problem, but we know that Anthony Bourdain had a long-term history of substance use with alcohol, cocaine, and heroin. While we cannot definitively state that the causes of Spade and Bourdain’s suicides were related to substance use, we can stress the importance of investigating how addiction contributes to mental health—and potential suicides. We must begin to acknowledge that drug and alcohol abuse is a major factor that contributes to suicide, coupled with creating more comprehensive approaches to suicide that include a focus on alcohol and drug abuse.