Girls and Young Women with a History of Suicide Attempts are at High Risk of Future Substance Misuse
A Public Health Advisory from SUD RECOVERY CENTERS
By Lauren DeSouza- Master of Public Health, Simon Fraser Public Research University – Canada
Staff Research and Content Writer
© Copyright – SUD RECOVERY CENTERS – A Division of Genesis Behavioral Services, Inc.,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin – June 2022 – All rights reserved.
Adolescence is a period of transition. Children go through physical, emotional, and cognitive changes throughout adolescence, and these changes can contribute to mental health challenges. Both substance use and suicide attempts are common during adolescence. Concerningly, there is a high rate of suicide attempts among adolescent girls. Girls may also use some substances, for example alcohol, more frequently than boys.
Researchers are beginning to discover that there is a connection between suicide attempts and substance use. A new study is showing that adolescent girls and women who make a suicide attempt during adolescence are 6 times more likely to develop a substance use disorder later in life.
How did this study work?
This study enrolled over 100,000 adolescent women and girls aged 8-19 in Quebec, Canada, and tracked them for 31 years. The researchers looked to see how many adolescent women and girls made suicide attempts and, of those, how many were later hospitalized with a substance use disorder. They then compared this with the number of women with a substance use disorder who did not make a suicide attempt.
Of those who were hospitalized with a substance use disorder, 25% of them had made suicide attempts as adolescents.
The risk for later developing a substance use disorder was highest during the 5 years immediately after the suicide attempt. However, the risk remained higher than for the no-attempt population for 15 years after. Women with 3 or more suicide attempts had the greatest risk of being hospitalized for a substance use disorder.
The most common substance use disorders seen among women and girls who had made suicide attempts were sedative or hypnotic substances. (e.g., benzodiazepines such as Xanax or Valium ) or hallucinogenic substances (e.g., LSD, PCP, ketamine, etc.). Some also developed cocaine, alcohol, opioid, or cannabis use disorders.
What is the relationship between suicide attempts and substance use?
Suicide attempts and substance misuse share several risk factors, including mental illness, trauma, a lack of impulse control, feelings of hopelessness, and a family history of suicide or substance use. Suicide attempts can also worsen existing mental health conditions such as depression, which can increase the risk of later substance misuse.
Recent research suggests that suicide attempts can harm certain regions of the brain, including those responsible for cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility helps one to be flexible in how they think, see many sides of a problem, and identify new solutions. A lack of cognitive flexibility may worsen thoughts of hopelessness and, the researchers suggest, could increase the risk of substance misuse.
Women who have made suicide attempts may also be more likely to use certain substances. For example, they may use sedatives or hypnotics to attempt to self-medicate or handle symptoms of other mental health conditions. They may also use hallucinogens and alcohol for feelings of euphoria or as an escape.
What are the takeaways?
Young women with a history of suicide attempts are at a greater risk of developing a substance use disorder later in life, particularly shortly after their suicide attempt.
The findings from this study suggest that girls and young women who are treated for suicide attempts may also benefit from preventive management programs to reduce the risk of substance misuse and help them achieve better health. This could include psychotherapy, working with a substance use counselor, or pharmaceutical treatment.
Support for mental health and mental illness may also help to prevent future substance use disorders. The researchers suggest that those who have made suicide attempts need to be followed up with by health care professionals over time to prevent or manage substance use.
Auger N, Chadi N, Ayoub A, Brousseau É, Low N. Suicide attempt and risk of substance use disorders among female youths. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online May 11, 2022. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2022.1025
Pond, Emily. Prior Suicide Attempt and Risk for Substance Abuse in Young Women. Psychiatry Advisor. June 8, 2022. https://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/home/topics/suicide-and-self-harm/young-women-with-a-history-of-prior-suicide-attempt-at-greater-risk-for-subsequent-substance-use-disorder/