Is Drug Abuse a form of Suicide?

philip seymour hoffmanYesterday while cooking chicken cutlets I began a conversation with a friend about the recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.  I was mere seconds away from making a disparaging remark about a celebrity overdosing on drugs when the tong I was using popped out of its lock causing the fork and knife next to it to go flying in the air and land on the ground.  My friend, ever the mystical one, said it was  caused by some sort of unknown energy in the room.  After I laughed at his comment I stopped to think about it and decided not to make my disparaging remark, the one that would have shown no compassion, and reassessed my feelings towards the issue.  In doing so I asked myself the following question:  Can drug overdose be considered a form of suicide?

Some of the similarities are glaringly significant.  In both cases we feel sadness for the loved ones left behind, knowing that the victims do not do what they do to hurt another person.  In many cases loved ones question themselves.  Could I have done more to help them?  Could I have stopped it from happening?  Could I have saved them if I was in the right place at the right time?  Often loved ones feel a justifiable albeit helpless anger towards what they may see as the ultimate in selfishness.  And the most significant similarity may be the self-destructiveness involved.  In the case of suicide, by its mere definition it is self-destructive.  In the case of drug overdose,  the continuing pursuit of the high at all costs is clearly self-destructive, even if the conscious motivation is not actual self-destruction.

So the question that follows is, should we feel sorrow or pity for the person who overdoses on drugs?  Some might ask the same question about someone who commits suicide. I personally do not even ask the question when looking at suicide.  To reach such despair in one’s life that the feeling one is left with is that the only solution is to kill oneself, is tragic no matter which way you twist it.  You know, that a person never wants to reach that point where they have no other way out, and if they do, they will ultimately do what they can to force fate’s hand regardless of how badly someone would like to prevent it, since their intent, and that may be the key word, is to stop the pain and end it all at all costs.

Although there is no question that consistent drug use has a very good chance in ending with one’s death and is also a way of stopping the pain, I will stop short of calling it a form of suicide.  There are many things people do they know to be unhealthy for them, some that are likely to shorten their life. They do them because they can’t help themselves or feel they can get away with it, not because they consciously want to die.  A person who abuses drugs to the point of death is more like the person who continues to smoke cigarettes, or the obese person who can’t stop eating.  In some instances they may not care, but they are generally not abusing their body with the sole intent of taking their own life.  Even if they are comfortable with what they perceive as a slow death, their initial focus is feeling better, not death.    Drug users have even less control of what they do, because the drugs can completely take over their life, and even though sometimes they can’t stop it because of a personal despair, their purpose is usually to get high, not to end their life.

Another important difference is that a drug abuser has a better shot at reversing the negative spiral than someone on the way to actual suicide. Had someone actually convinced Philip Seymour Hoffman to get help and eliminate drugs from his life, an overdose would not have taken his life on Saturday.  But with the intricacies of the mind, despair is something a lot harder if not impossible to control and if someone has the intent to end it all, the battle to prevent it as a battle riddled with serious and often impossible obstacles to overcome.

So I come away from this all somewhat humbled, because rather than taking a high (no pun intended) and mighty stance, I realize that drug overdose is a tragedy that often causes an untimely death and pain to those left behind, even if the intent generally distinguishes it from true suicide.   Not being a mental health professional or drug counselor I may be off here on some of my points, but ultimately I realize that all I can do as a human being is show compassion to anyone suffering on any level they never wished to suffer.  It will make me a better person and maybe one day allow me to help someone  who needs help and maybe even save someone’s life.  It may also never make a difference, but it is certainly more productive than a disparaging comment while cooking chicken cutlets.

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