Middle-Aged Suicide & Addiction

Charlie in deep thought about Families and Addiction and Middle-Aged Suicide

Contributor: Staff Member of Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment

Suicide is a tragic and all-too-common issue in our country, surpassing motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of injury mortality and ranking as the 10th leading cause of death among persons 10 and older [1]. But, what about middle-aged suicide?

Middle-Aged Suicide

Recent statistics show that suicide is at a 30-year high and that these incidences are rising at an alarming rate for men and women considered middle-aged. Incidences of suicide in men ages 45-64 have increased from 20.8 deaths per 100,000 attempts to 29.7 between 1999 and 2014 [2]. For women in the same age-group, the suicide rate increased from 6 to 9.8 deaths per 100,000 attempts, constituting the second-largest percentage increase in suicide deaths [2].


Suicide and Addiction

Suicidal ideation, attempts, and deaths are also problematic among those struggling with addiction, with up to 40% of patients seeking treatment for substance abuse reporting a history of suicide attempts [1]. When compared to the general population, individuals with alcohol use disorders are almost 10 times more likely to die by suicide and those that inject drugs are 14 times more likely to commit suicide [1]. What similarities exist between addiction, middle-age, and suicide and what are some key areas to look out for if your loved one is experiencing any of these three?

Common Stressors

Woman in hatWhen attempting to make a connection between the factors of addiction, suicide, and middle-age, one shared aspect sticks out: they all involve common stressors. When individuals experience stressful negative events such as relationship or job loss, health problems, financial problems, or the death of a loved one, they may be overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety, depression, loss, or inadequacy.

Many of these stressors become more common during middle-age. For example, the majority of divorces occur between the ages of 45 and 54 [3]. One study found that excessive alcohol use in women increased with children leaving the home and death of loved ones [4].

Additionally, heavy alcohol consumption in men increased in the years up to and surrounding the death of loved ones and retirement [4]. All of these are experiences that occur primarily, if not exclusively, in middle-age. Those without positive coping skills to process these experiences may turn to alcohol or self-harming behaviors in order to numb their experiences.

How to Help

There are a few things that can be done to help and support a loved one who may be experiencing middle-age challenges, suicidal thoughts, and addiction. One of the most helpful and important actions to take is to simply ask.

So often, those in their mid-life are not asked how they are coping or what they are experiencing because it is viewed that they can handle it on their own. Simply asking, “how are you doing?” can open the door to a discussion on how they are adjusting to mid-life transitions.

Additionally, pay attention. Those in midlife are more likely to live alone so changes in behavior can go unnoticed. There is no need to scrutinize their every move, however, pay attention to their behavior. Do they appear depressed? Do you notice an increase in substance use?

Man lighting his smoke

This population is often ignored, yet, with the incredibly difficult stressors that come with middle-age, they are clearly at risk for issues with suicide and addiction. Those in mid-life are just like any other individual. Their feelings and experiences should be acknowledged and they should be supported in processing and overcoming them.


[1] Yuodelis-Flores, C., Ries, R. K.. (2015). Addiction and suicide: a review. The American Journal on Addictions, 24, 98-104.
[2] Piscopo, K. D. (2017). Suicidality and death by suicide among middle-aged adults in the United States. The CBHSQ Report. Retrieved on 20 November 2017 from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_3370/ShortReport-3370.html
[3] Lloyd, G. M., Sailor, J. L., Carney, W. (2014). A phenomenological study of postdivorce adjustment in midlife. Journal of Divorce * Remarriage, 55:6, 441-450.
[4] Tamers, S. L. et al. (2014). The impact of stressful life events on excessive alcohol consumption in the French Population: Findings from the GAZEL cohort study. PLoSONE, 9:1.

Thank you to Timberline Knolls for providing this article.

Timberline Knolls is a leading residential treatment center for women and adolescent girls, ages 12 and older, with eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma, mood and co-occurring disorders. Located in suburban Chicago, residents receive excellent clinical care from a highly trained professional staff on a picturesque 43-acre wooded campus. An adult partial hospitalization program (PHP) is also available in nearby Orland Park, Ill., for women to step down or direct admit. For more information on Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, call 630-755-5173. We are also on Facebook – Timberline Knolls, LinkedIn – Timberline Knolls and Twitter – @TimberlineToday.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on January 12, 2018
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 12, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.