Substance Use and Suicide

Western Michigan University's Suicide Prevention Program does not provide counseling services. If you are thinking about suicide or hurting yourself, or if someone you know is seriously thinking about suicide, please seek help. Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., call Counseling Services at (269) 387-1850. After hours, call (800) 273-TALK (8255). This National Suicide Prevention hotline is available 24 hours per day, seven days per week and is answered locally.

In case of emergency, call 911!

Substance use as it is used here includes intoxication, binge drinking, withdrawal, as well as substance dependence and substance abuse.

  • Suicide risk is increased by both legal and illicit substance use. Research has addressed the increased risk for particular substance use (e.g., alcohol), as well as multiple drug use.
  • Substance use disorders and suicide occur more frequently among youth and adults, compared to older persons.
  • For particular groups at risk, such as American Indians and Alaskan Natives, depression and alcohol use and abuse are the most common risk factors for completed suicide.
  • Alcohol and substance abuse problems contribute to suicidal behavior in several ways.
    • Persons who are dependent on substances often have a number of other risk factors for suicide (e.g., runaway and homeless youth).
    • In addition to being depressed, they are also likely to have social and financial problems.
    • Substance use disorders can be common among persons prone to be impulsive, and among persons who engage in many types of high-risk behaviors that result in self-harm.

Alcohol-related suicides

  • Between 40 and 60 percent of those who die by suicide are intoxicated at the time of death. An estimated 18 to 66 percent of those who die by suicide have some alcohol in their blood at the time of death.
  • An estimated 1 to 6 percent of individuals with alcohol dependency will die by suicide.
  • People who are addicted to alcohol are at higher risk if they also suffer from depression. At the time of death by suicide, 50 to 75 percent of alcohol-dependent individuals are suffering from depression.
  • Adolescents who die by suicide are more likely to use a firearm than another method if they have alcohol in their blood at the time of death.
  • Suicide rates among 18 to 20 year olds were found to decrease among several states where the minimum legal drinking age was raised to 21.

Other substance use disorders

  • Intoxication by drugs or alcohol may increase suicide risk by decreasing inhibitions, increasing aggressiveness and impairing judgment. Additionally, substance use such as alcohol increases the lethality of some medications, making it more likely that a suicide attempt via overdose will be lethal.
  • Research suggests that adolescents who use marijuana or cigarettes are at increased risk of suicide. Studies have also found that as many as 20 percent of those who die by suicide have used cocaine in the days prior to death.

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