Self-Harm, Suicidal Ideation, and Addiction Treatment

For most people, self-preservation is instinctive, and we go to great lengths to avoid physical harm. So when someone deliberately hurts themselves or wants to end their own life, many react with confusion, shock, or even anger. But to those in great psychological pain, self-harm and suicidal ideation sometimes provide an emotional escape from overwhelming distress. In some cases, that self-destructive desire can also manifest in drug addiction.

Escaping Psychic Pain


Mental health disorders, trauma, and extreme stress can create pain that is too much to carry inside. While self-harm often seems illogical to many mentally stable people, those living with psychological pain are sometimes so desperate to find relief from their internal struggles that they externalize their suffering through self-induced physical harm such as cutting, burning, or hitting themselves. The reasons behind these behaviors are complex. For some, it is about a desire to give physical expression to inner turmoil or numb emotional pain by forcing the release of endorphins. For others, it is about alleviating emotional numbness and making themselves feel something. In some cases, it is an expression of self-hatred, punishment, and deliberate assault against oneself. In all cases, self-harm is about coping with overwhelming emotions, however disturbing it may look to the outside world.

Often, suicidal ideation is seen as a direct extension of self-harm, but this is not always the case. While some people’s self-harm may indicate a desire to take their own life, the two are generally discrete experiences, and self-harm usually does not indicate suicidality. In fact, not even suicidal ideation necessarily indicates that someone wants to take their own life; simply having thoughts of suicide does not mean that someone is actively suicidal. What it does mean, however, is that they are experiencing deep distress, and all forms of suicidal ideation should be treated with the utmost seriousness.

Both self-harm and suicidal ideation are more common to some psychiatric diagnoses than others. For example, they are prevalent features of Borderline Personality Disorder, and often occur in people with depression. Suicidal ideation is also strongly associated with bipolar disorders, particularly bipolar II disorder. But neither self-harm nor suicidal ideation are exclusive to any single diagnosis; people with all forms of mental health disorders may engage in self-harm or suicidal ideation, as may those without any mental health disorder at all.

Self-Harm, Suicidal Ideation, and Addiction


People in severe psychological distress, whether chronic or acute, are at significantly increased risk of abusing drugs in their quest to find relief from suffering. Often, however, drug use is self-limiting, and even those experiencing profound emotional turmoil retain the desire to avoid serious harm. Some people who engage in self-harm or experience suicidal ideation, however, may have an increased propensity for risk-taking and reduced concern for their physical well-being, heightening the risk of developing a substance use disorder.

Drug abuse, particularly chronic, long-term drug addiction, can significantly aggravate pre-existing mental health disorders and other forms of psychological suffering. As such, drug addiction may contribute to the escalation of both self-harm and suicidal ideation. Unfortunately, this raises the possibility of both accidental and deliberate death, whether through overdose, drug-induced illness, or self-inflicted harm.

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Dual Diagnosis Treatment


Neither self-harm nor suicidal ideation is a primary diagnosis. Rather, both are symptoms of serious psychological struggle. In some cases, this struggle indicates the presence of a mental health disorder. In other cases, it doesn’t; after all, not all emotional pain is the result of a mental health disorder. Regardless of whether or not self-harm or suicidal ideation is the result of a discrete mental illness, it is imperative that those experiencing these phenomena seek professional treatment to heal from their suffering and prevent further psychic and physical damage. When a co-occurring drug addiction is present, dual diagnosis treatment offers the best chance of recovery.

Dual diagnosis treatment is designed to create meaningful avenues toward healing for people struggling with psychological distress and drug addiction. Using modern, evidence-based therapies, clinicians are able to craft personalized treatment plans based on the specific needs of each client, creating multidimensional recovery experiences that speak to the symptoms and strengths of each person. The most effective therapeutic modalities for self-harm, suicidal ideation, and addiction include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Experiential Therapy
  • Holistic Therapies
  • 12-step support groups

Pharmacological therapy may also be incorporated into treatment to address specific emotional or behavioral symptoms as well as any mental health disorder that is identified during the assessment process.

The goal of dual diagnosis treatment is to guide you toward a deeper understanding of yourself, your psychological state, and your drug addiction, and help you develop healthy strategies for coping with stressors and triggers. Through an intensive therapeutic process, you are able to find alternatives to self-harm and reignite your desire to not just live, but to live an authentic life of purpose and joy. For many, treatment allows for extraordinary personal transformation and sparks an ongoing commitment to self-discovery, sustainable recovery, and nurturing of mind, body, and spirit.

One of the most important components of recovery from both psychological distress and drug addiction is often family involvement. If you feel it is appropriate, selecting a treatment facility with a dedicated family program can provide the structure and support you need to strengthen your relationships with your loved ones. Such programming can be essential to helping your family understand the motivations behind your self-harm or suicidal ideation, and can act as a vital resource to help them cope with their own feelings. At the same time, you can work together to improve your family dynamics and learn how to nourish deeper, healthier bonds that will buoy you through recovery.

If you would like more information about drug addiction, self-harm, and suicidal ideation, or have any questions about dual diagnosis treatment, we encourage you to contact us. We are always available to offer support and guidance to help you find lasting relief from psychological pain and addiction.