How to Recognize Suicidal Tendencies with Drug Addiction

01/31/18: Drug Addiction
I’m opening my heart up for this story. I hope the details don’t seem familiar to you. If they do, it could mean that you too have lost someone to suicide. I share this in the hope that it will educate, enlighten and embolden you to talk about the risks that drug- and alcohol-use disorder present when left ignored. It may help a friend. It might help you. At the time, I didn’t know how to recognize suicidal tendencies with drug addiction. They were there, front and center, in my dear friend Claude.

Depression Doesn’t Fit in A Box, It’s Circular

There’s a lot of misrepresentation about depression. It isn’t just about the sadness or feelings of despair. There are signs that most of us would consider the opposite of depressive behavior: elation or peacefulness. And because depression is exhibited differently from person to person, it’s hard to configure a go-to list that will provide confirmation of this mental illness in someone you know. If there is another health condition present in addition to depression, such as alcoholism and/or opioid addiction, many of the behavioral symptoms are common to one another. Unfortunately, substance use disorder (addiction) further exacerbates depression and vice-versa.

Opioid Abuse Gravely Increases One’s Risk for Suicide

In a study conducted in the United States and published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, participants who reported opioid misuse revealed up to a 60 percent increased risk for suicidal thoughts. Of them who misused opioids at least weekly, there were 75 percent more likely to plan for suicide. The amount of actual suicide attempts made in this group were 20 percent more than participants who did not misuse opioids. Other research findings showed a 13 times increased risk for suicide death in people who have an opioid use disorder. And female military veterans who were diagnosed with opioid addiction had an 8-fold risk for suicide.

Symptoms of Suicide Risk

The following provides signs that can indicate an increased risk for suicide. They usually don’t happen in a short amount of time or in a sequential order. These can be repeated over time, not easily identified, and some, not all, may be exercised. Don’t take them lightly.
  • Letting go of cherished personal belongings to friends and family
  • Mentions of or sudden inclusions of friends or family members into a will
  • Withdrawal from everyday routines, work, school or socialization
  • Vacillating between heavy depression to tranquility, highs to lows
  • Increase in drug abuse or alcohol intake
  • Purchasing of items or gathering of materials that can cause personal injury or death
  • Verbalizing the desire to die or writing about death
When I think back on what went down with my friend Claude, he did exhibit all of the above symptoms. I just couldn’t put the pieces together fast enough. I did suggest to him (multiple times) that he seek professional help. He wouldn’t. Please read my brief story about Claude. At the very least, it may help prevent someone else from the same demise…

Claude’s Untold Story

suicide preventionFor the last six months of his life, there was barely a day that went by that I didn’t speak to Claude. Sometimes, the conversation went on for more than two hours. Other times, we communicated by text because he didn’t have the energy to speak aloud. I was never okay with that but I accepted it as this was him. During the course of our 15-year friendship, I witnessed his litany of moods: light-hearted, animated, upbeat, aggressive, reactive, solemn and hopeless. He struggled with alcoholism for years, admitted he had a problem, but laughed it off long enough to order another cocktail. You can lead a horse to water but… Diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and who knows what else, happier times were more commonplace in his past, though there were days when the old Claude would come out of “it” and be fully present. Those are the moments I cherish. But they were far and few between. He would tell me how he was feeling, and I seldom had to even ask. I suppose he knew he found a safe emotional space with me. He was thick-skinned, or so I thought. A straight-shooter, hell yes, and had no filter whatsoever. You never knew what was going to come out of his mouth but it was always, entertaining. I’m sure you have a friend like that (or you)? I’m not really sure what happened last August 2017 but Claude seemed to shift. It was like he was on top of his game again. He bought a distressed, luxury property and set to rebuild it as his best project to date. The timing was perfect. I went on a needed vacation overseas. On the third day, as the sun was setting over the waters of Aruba, I received a lengthy text from Claude, which was totally unexpected. He wanted to know when I’d be home and said he missed me. That was not like Claude. By the time I arrived home, I learned Claude had been out at a bar, no doubt drinking too much and mouthing off. He always did it in good fun but that particular evening, he wound up around the wrong people. They followed him home. He let them inside, turned around after he opened the front door. The next thing he knew, he was face down on the tile lying in a pool of his own blood. After three days in the hospital, an intense concussion, and plastic surgery to fix his lips, gums and teeth, he went home but was never the same again. Claude became a recluse. He was suffering from a mix of post-concussion syndrome, depression, alcoholism and opioid misuse. There were endless visits to a myriad of doctors, each with differing opinions of prognosis. There was no consistency. Claude sank further into depression. With so many adverse health conditions going on, it was hard to discern what was the procuring cause of his distress. He'd ask me to do research for him on the latest findings about the rate of healing for a concussion. He acted as though he wanted to live and beat whatever it was that proved too much for him. I picked up some wellness products that were formulated to boost energy levels; Claude thought they were worth a try. He wanted to live, I thought. We exchanged some text messages and voicemails about me coming by to get them to him. He said he was too tired for company. Three days later, I got a call. Another close friend found him. He was gone.

Suicidal Tendencies Can Happen to Anyone

Reread the symptoms of risk for suicide I’ve noted above again. Keep them on hand. I hope you never have to refer to them. Based on the rate of alcoholism and opioid addiction in this country, you might find yourself glancing at it each year. If you ever need it, here’s the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 800.273.8255. Let your family and friends know how much you love them, often.


Melanie SternAuthored by Melanie Stern, Content Director for Scottsdale Recovery Center, Arizona Addiction Recovery Centers and Cohn Media, LLC. Writer and broadcaster covering the following industries: addiction rehab, health care, entertainment, technology and advocate of clear communication, positivity and humanity at its best.

If you or someone you know needs help with addiction, contact 602-737-1619 or email [email protected] to get the help you need. Our acclaimed recovery environment merges upscale, luxury accommodations with affordability, clinical expertise and an unwavering commitment to patient care and aftercare.

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