Suicide and Opiate Abuse

Woman struggling with grief

In the 2018 remake of the movie A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper plays country music star Jackson Maine. His performance won public and critical acclaim for a man spiraling down with depression, anger, and substance abuse as his partner becomes a star. The film successfully portrays the dangerous combination of mental health, substance abuse, suicide and opioids.

The movie reflects a growing reality about the mix of alcohol, opiates, and death in the United States. A recent article in the New York Times states, “The number of deaths from alcohol, drugs, and suicide in 2017 hit the highest level since the collection of this type of federal mortality data started in 1999…These causes killed more than twice as many as they did in 1999.” [1]

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) agrees and writes that “Suicide deaths are a major component of the opioid crisis that must be addressed.” [2]

In 2017 47,600 people in the United States died from overdoses involving either prescription or illegal opioids. What is more challenging to determine is how many of those were accidental overdoses versus intentional suicides.

To muddy the water even further, some of the overdoses may have been by individuals not intentionally trying to die by suicide but were feeling depressed enough to be careless with the deadly combination of drugs they were taking.

A variety of factors play a role in the combination of suicide and opioid misuse. The primary reason opioids are prescribed in the United States is for chronic pain. Conditions such as long-term, severe back pain, combined with depression brought on by the pain, can make a person vulnerable to abusing the drugs to get more relief.

Girl in sun battling Suicide and OpioidsThe NIMH also reports that people with substance abuse disorders are twice as likely to have mood and anxiety disorders.

Each of these conditions alone is associated with increased suicide risk. Combined, they only increase the risk.

Because of these factors, it is difficult to tell how many of the deaths associated with opioid misuse are suicide attempts. What we do know is that the numbers are increasing. The NIMH reports “significant increases in suicides involving opioids among all age groups except teens and young adults between 1999 and 2014; in those aged 55-64, the rate quadrupled.”

As part of the National Institute of Health’s HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) Initiative, the NIMH is participating in research to identify alternative methods of pain management and prevention of opioid misuse. This may turn out to be one of the best ways to prevent opioid abuse in the first place.

And, even if you or a loved one is addicted, there is hope. Similar to his character in A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper has a history with alcohol and prescription drug abuse—one with a Hollywood ending which reveals recovery is possible. In an ABC interview with Barbara Walters, Cooper describes life after addiction as “beautiful.” [3]


[1] Hassan, A. (2019, March 7). Deaths From Drugs and Suicide Reach a Record in the U.S. Retrieved November 4, 2019, from

[2] Joshua Gordon, N. V. (2019, September 19). Suicide Deaths Are a Major Component of the Opioid Crisis that Must Be Addressed. Retrieved November 4, 2019, from

[3] News, A. B. C. (2015, December 17). Bradley Cooper on His Late Father and Deciding to Get Sober. Retrieved November 4, 2019, from

About the Author:

Travis StewartTravis Stewart, LPC has been mentoring others since 1992 and became a Licensed Professional Counselor in 2005. His counseling approach is relational and creative, helping people understand their story while also building hope for the future. Travis has experience with a wide variety of issues which might lead people to seek out professional counseling help. This includes a special interest in helping those with compulsive and addictive behaviors such as internet and screen addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, and perfectionism. Specifically, he has worked with eating disorders since 2003 and has learned from many of the field’s leading experts. He has worked with hundreds of individuals facing life-threatening eating disorders in all levels of treatment. Travis’ website is

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.

Reviewed and Approved by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 4, 2019
Published November 4, 2019, on

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.