Overdose is not the only way those with addiction die

While overdose dominates headlines, those who struggle with the disease of addiction die from many different drug-related causes. These are just the few I know about.

Suicide

We don’t really know how many overdoses are intentional but scientists believe it could be as many as 25%. For it to be ruled a suicide, there has to be some evidence of intention such as a letter indicating it was self-inflicted. Otherwise, we don’t know. We do know that addiction itself and all the relationship, legal, health, and financial problems it creates, along with withdrawal, relapse, and even recovery can drive a sufferer to think or act on thoughts of suicide.

Alcohol and drugs are often involved in some way in most suicide attempts and those in recovery will tell you that it’s very common for people to attempt suicide or die by suicide. Then there’s the reason a person might start misusing substances in the first place which is often a mental illness such as bipolar disorder or depression. It’s an effort to feel normal or numb the effects of these diseases. SUD and suicide are intimately linked yet it’s still rarely discussed. My son, Charles suffered from depression, eventually became addicted to heroin and he did die by suicide. Not by drug overdose. He was going through withdrawal when he took his own life. The method left no question.

Accidents related to substance use disorder

Falling and hitting one’s head, car accidents, running out in front of traffic, and any other accident-related deaths.

Seizures brought on by alcohol withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal happens when someone drinks a lot throughout the day, and then when one stops or cuts back. This can cause seizures in some people which can result in death and what’s more, seizure meds don’t always work for alcohol-induced seizures.

Infective Endocarditis

Infective endocarditis is a significant medical problem for those with substance use disorder. Bacteria or fungi in the bloodstream enter the heart’s inner lining or valves. And it can happen when people are already in recovery and unaware they are infected.

Encephalitis

Almost 74% of adults suffering from a substance use disorder (SUD) in 2017 struggled with an alcohol use disorder.1 So while we might hear more about other drugs, alcohol addiction can be the most deadly. Besides, seizures, it can cause Hepatic encephalopathy (HE), alcoholic pellagra encephalopathy, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) which is also referred to as alcohol dementia or “wet brain.” These diagnoses usually result in severe cognitive effects and sometimes they are deadly or permanent.

Liver Disease/Cirrhosis

Alcohol-related liver disease is caused by damage to the liver from years of excessive drinking. Years of alcohol abuse can cause the liver to become inflamed and swollen. Cirrhosis is the final stage of liver disease.

Hepatitis

People who inject drugs run a higher risk for contracting HBV and HCV from shared needles and other drug preparation equipment. Because drug and alcohol use can also directly damage the liver, there is an increased risk for chronic liver disease and cancer among those infected with hepatitis.

HIV

Those who use drugs are at high risk for getting HIV if they use needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment. Because social and economic factors limit access to HIV prevention and treatment services by those with SUD, it can be deadly.

I am no expert. So if you know of a death from SUD that is not mentioned here, please share it. This is an incentive to support someone in recovery and to give to organizations that treat substance use disorder. I would suggest Caritas. You don’t need luxury rehab to heal, you just need a proven program of people who care.

1Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

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Anne Moss Rogers

I am an emotionally naked TEDx speaker, and author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind. I raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost my youngest son, Charles to substance use disorder and suicide June 5, 2015. I help people foster a culture of connection to prevent suicide, reduce substance misuse and find life after loss. My motivational, training and workshop topics include suicide prevention, addiction, mental illness, and grief. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now the legacy I try and carry forward in my son's memory. Professional Speaker Website. Trained in ASIST and trainer for the evidence-based 4-hour training for everyone called safeTALK.

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