Substance Use Frequency Relates to Suicidal Ideation Through Perceived Burdensomeness and to Suicide Attempts Through Capability for Suicide

Arch Suicide Res. 2021 Sep 16;1-21. doi: 10.1080/13811118.2021.1931595. Online ahead of print.


Background: Although substance use has been linked to both suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, the factors underlying these relations remain unclear. The Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicide (ITS) provides a framework for understanding how substance use may increase suicide risk. The purpose of the current study was to examine if frequency of substance use is indirectly related to suicidal ideation and suicide attempts through core ITS variables (i.e., burdensomeness, thwarted belongingness, and suicide capability).

Methods: An online sample of Mechanical Turk workers (N = 365) completed measures assessing substance use frequency, burdensomeness, thwarted belongingness, suicide capability, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts.

Results: After controlling for relevant clinical and demographic covariates, substance use frequency was indirectly related to suicidal ideation through burdensomeness but not thwarted belongingness. Substance use frequency was indirectly related to suicide attempts through suicide capability only.

Limitations: The cross-sectional design precludes conclusions about the precise nature and direction of the relations examined. The use of a community sample limits generalizability to more severe substance using samples.

Conclusions: Results highlight the relevance of distinct ITS factors in the relation between substance use frequency and both suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. Results may inform specific targets for novel interventions aimed at reducing suicide risk among substance-using individuals.HighlightsSubstance use frequency was indirectly related to SI through burdensomeness.Substance use frequency was not indirectly related to SI through thwarted belongingness.Substance use frequency was indirectly related to SA only through suicide capability.

Keywords: Interpersonal-psychological theory of suicide; social connection; substance use; suicidal ideation; suicide attempt; suicide capability.