Studies have long shown a link between substance abuse and the risk of suicide and attempted suicide during adolescence, and a new study confirms this link in high school students who abuse opioids. A link between two behaviors does not necessarily show that one causes the other, but we know that substance abuse is a common coping mechanism used by teens who have other risk factors for suicide. Knowing that there is a link between two behaviors can help treatment professionals be more effective in helping teens who have these risk factors, including substance abuse.
A new study published in the journal “Pediatrics” showed that high school students who abuse prescription opioid medications are more likely to attempt suicide than their peers who don’t misuse opioids.
In the study, one of every three high school students who self-reported abusing opioids said they had also attempted suicide. This is an astonishingly high number and one that has implications for the treatment of opioid misuse in this age group.
Suicidal ideation, planning, and attempts were all higher for those currently abusing opioids, but they were also elevated for those who had abused opioids in the past, even if they are not currently doing so.
Risk Factors For Teen Suicide
Other risk factors for suicide among teens include the following:
- Having a mental health disorder such as depression
- Social isolation
- Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
- Child abuse or neglect
- Breakup of friendship or romantic relationship, or violence in relationships
- Family or community history of suicide
- Identifying as LGBTQ
Teens who have a number of risk factors are at higher risk for attempting suicide, and opioid abuse gives them a ready means to accomplish that goal. It is important for teens to get substance abuse treatment if they are misusing opioids and that their treatment plan includes addressing suicidal ideation, planning, and attempts as a major risk for this age group.
Teen Suicide: A Growing Problem
According to statistics, 6,200 people ages 10 to 24 died of suicide in 2017, the latest year available. Suicide was the second-highest cause of death in this age group and has risen 60 percent since 2007. Females were more likely to attempt suicide than males, but more males who attempted suicide actually died.
Additionally, there is some evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened some of the risk factors for teen suicide, like social isolation and child abuse or neglect. Most recently, the CDC reported that between April and October of 2020, teen mental health emergency room visits increased 31 percent over 2019 levels.
Getting treatment for substance abuse and mental health disorders as well as community help and support for other suicide risk factors saves lives. If you or a loved one knows of a teen who is misusing opioids, Harris House can help. Call us to learn about admissions and take the first step toward healing for you or someone you love.