Early this month, a group of young teenage boys aged 15 to 18 years old, walked 70 miles carrying a flag that signifies addiction awareness to raise the public’s consciousness on the serious problem of drug addiction, suicide and depression among young people. It took them four days to walk from Augusta to Bangor. The young boys’ efforts were very timely as more young people are reportedly dying by suicide.
Teen suicide is recognized as a major public health problem as suicide is recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to be the third leading cause of deaths of young people aged 10 to 24 years old. The first two leading causes are accidents and homicide.
A study released in 2005 showed that the rate of suicide among young people from 1956 to 1993 has more than doubled. But the CDC currently pegs the number of teenage suicide to 4,600 per year.
For decades, the role of alcohol and drug use is among the risk factors that contribute to the increasing teenage suicide rate. The other factors that affect adolescent suicide attempts are a history of depression and other mental health problems, history of suicide in the family, incarceration, access to guns or lethal means, exposure to other person’s suicidal behavior, and frequent changes in residence which contributes to the lack of social relationships.
Can Alcohol and Substance Abuse Lead to Suicide?
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), there are over 23 million people aged 12 and above who are addicted to alcohol and other drugs. A study in 2008, also found that drinking alcohol while down and “heavy episodic” drinking, was linked to increased suicide attempts among young people.
But how can alcohol and drug use increase the rate of suicide among young people? Alcohol and drug addiction affect the brain’s functions which leads to an uncontrollable urge to seek the substance despite its negative effects on the body. When the euphoria from the substance wears off, the person with substance use disorder is vulnerable to feel anxiety and severe depression.
At their age, young people are more vulnerable to suffer from depression. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), suicidal plans, ideation, and attempts are higher among teens who are depressed and who are using a substance.
Depression is a mental illness which can co-occur with substance abuse, increasing the risk of suicidal attempts and completion. There is also research which reveals that alcohol abuse and suicidal behavior among adolescents correlates genetically, biochemically, and psychologically.
A study also showed that young people with substance use disorder who attempt or completed suicide experience mood disorders, interpersonal problems, stressful lives, feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, and poor social support.
What are the Suicide Warning Signs?
When a teenager expresses that he feels like being a burden to his family or friends, it should immediately raise a red flag for the parents or those close to him, to intervene and check on his behaviors. The feeling of being a burden, trapped in something unexplainable, and the feeling of hopelessness are among the 12 suicide warning signs listed by CDC.
The other warning signs of suicidal tendencies among the young people include:
- Isolating oneself
- Sleeping either too little or too much
- Expressing suicidal ideation
- Increased anxiousness
- Increased use of a substance
- Uncontrollable anger
- Mood swings that are extreme
- Finding access to lethal means
- Suicide planning
How Can We Prevent Suicide Among Young People?
It’s clear that the prevalence of addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol are exposing the adolescents to several risks, particularly suicide. Suicide prevention should, therefore, be taken seriously by the community.
To help prevent suicide attempts, communities should:
- Create a protective environment for young people. Households should reduce access to medications and firearms among young people. States should also promote safe environments.
- Know who is at risk. It is also very important for the families and schools to identify and support young people who are at risk of committing suicide.
- Teach problem-solving skills and stress-coping mechanisms to young people. Schools, in particular, should teach students how they can manage stresses or challenges like an academic problem or family problems.
- Help young people who are struggling economically. People who are struggling to make ends meet are more likely to experience homelessness and depression, which are linked to substance abuse. There should be more programs to help vulnerable families to gain access to social services and livelihood.
- Make sure young people have access to mental and physical health care. Quality and affordable health care are very important for each family.
Where to Find Help for Suicidal Teens
Helping adolescents cope with substance abuse and suicidal tendencies can be very difficult for parents and guardians. This is why seeking professional help should be one of the immediate actions to help teens. Choosing drug treatment facilities that offer comprehensive and holistic drug rehab can help teens manage depression and recover from drug addiction.