Suicide and Substance Abuse By the Numbers

Any suicide is one too many, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get more realistic about who is at risk…And there is a lot to suggest that we need to put our efforts towards the two-thirds of people who kill themselves who have never had any contact with mental health.” ~ Dr. John Michael Bostwick, M.D., consulting psychiatrist, Mayo Clinic

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, substance abuse “is a significant factor that is linked to a substantial number of suicides and suicide attempts.” In observance of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, we present the following statistics to promote better understanding and hopefully, early intervention.

Statistics about Substance Abuse and Suicide


  • In 2020, 44,834 Americans committed suicide.
  • That is an average of 123 lost lives a day.
  • This makes suicide the 10th-leading cause of death.
  • Among people between the ages of 10 and 34, it is the #1 cause of death, while among people ages 35-44, it is #4.
  • 80% of all suicides are among individuals ages 45 to 54.
  • At the most recent count, 4,436 of those happened here in California.
  • On one hand, there is encouraging news – 2020 saw a 5.6% decrease from the 47,511 suicide deaths in 2019.
  • But on the other hand, that is still more than double the number of homicides.
  • A generation ago, in 1999, the suicide rate was about 10 per 100,000 people, but now that rate has climbed to almost 14.
  • In 2019, there were an estimated 1.38 million attempted suicides

Alcohol and Drugs

  • Compared to the general population, people who abuse or are dependent on alcohol have a suicide risk that is 10 times higher.
  • The suicide risk among people who inject drugs is 14 times higher.
  • Greater than 1 in 5 people who take their own lives are intoxicated on alcohol at the time.
  • Acute alcohol intoxication is a factor in up to 40% of attempted suicides.
  • Alcohol abuse is the single greatest predictor of suicide.
  • Opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, or prescription painkillers are present in 20% of completed suicides.
  • Marijuana is present in 10.2%, Cocaine in 4.6%, and amphetamines in 3.2% of cases.
  • 23% of people currently struggling with Opioid Use Disorder experience suicidal ideation.
  • 7% of people who were formerly actively dependent on opioids and who have been opioid-free for at least a year still think about taking their own lives.
  • To put that in perspective, that rate is more than double that of people who have never abused opioids.
  • Some experts estimate that up to 45% of overdoses deaths are actually suicides.
  • In 2020, overdose deaths reached an all-time high.

Mental Illness

  • Up to 90% of people who commit suicide have a personal history of mental illness and/or substance abuse.
  • Depression, Substance Use Disorder, and psychosis have been identified as the most relevant psychiatric factors.
  • Between 8% and 15% of people hospitalized for self-harming thoughts or actions due to depression will eventually kill themselves.
  • That rate drops to just 2% for depression patients receiving outpatient treatment.
  • Among the general population, the suicide rate is 1%.

Learning from these Statistics

There are a few important takeaways from these statistics:

FIRST, suicide and substance abuse claim hundreds of thousands of American lives every year.

SECOND, substance abuse dramatically increases the likelihood of suicide because it:

  • Impairs cognition and judgment
  • Lowers inhibitions
  • Worsens psychological distress
  • Increases aggression
  • Raises suicide-specific expectations – For example, the person may think that if they are drunk or high, their suicide will be painless.

THIRD, mental illness and substance abuse are the top two risk factors for suicide, and they frequently co-occur.

FOURTH and most important – specialized professional treatment is the most effective way to combat not just suicidal ideation, but also contributory emotional or addictive disorders.

If you live in Southern California, your first and best resource is Lasting Recovery, the top outpatient rehab program in San Diego. Lasting Recovery utilizes evidence-based treatment strategies that promote healing and allow you to safely and successfully regain both your long-term sobriety and your healthy emotional balance.

For a confidential assessment or for more information, contact Lasting Recovery Today.

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