Ethnic Suicide And Substance Abuse Rates In The United States

Updated on July 21, 2021

Each ethnic group faces different risk factors and rates of suicide, but one of the primary contributors to suicide that spans all ethnicities is substance abuse.

Ethnic Suicide Rates In The US

Ethnic minority groups and immigrants in the United States face a disproportionate risk of death by suicide.

While suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death in America, and men tend to die from suicide in greater numbers than women, at even greater risk are those in minoriy groups.

American Indians/Alaska Natives have the highest suicide rates, while Hispanics have the lowest, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), an organization funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The percent of suicide deaths by ethnic group per 100,000 individuals are:

  • American Indians/Alaska Natives: 22.1%
  • White/Caucasian: 18.0%
  • Asian/Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders: 7.0%
  • Hispanics: 7.4%
  • Black/African Americans: 7.2%

What do these numbers mean? In short, each ethnic group sees its own percentage of suicide rates affected by varying factors.

One risk factor that is known to contribute to suicide for all groups is substance abuse/substance use disorders (SUDs).

Here, you will find information* on:

  • suicide rates by ethnicity
  • contributing factors to suicide rates
  • the connection between substance misuse and suicide
  • substance abuse rates among suicide
  • treatment options and other resources for those with suicidal behaviors or ideations

*The Suicide Prevention Resource Center, a federally funded organization, has provided the most up-to-date, accurate information regarding suicide rates among different ethinicities. All rates on this page reflect this most current information — from 2018.

Suicide And American Indians/Alaskan Native Populations

American Indian and Alaskan Natives, or AI/AN, is a term that encompasses people from many different cultures, groups, tribes, and traditions.

People who are AI/AN are descended from both North and South America, including Central America.

Facts to know about the suicide rate among AI/AN populations in the U.S. as compared to the general U.S. population:

  • Suicide rate: The suicide rate in AI/AN populations is higher than the rate for the U.S. as a whole (14.1%).
  • Peak rates: Suicide rates peak in adolescence/young adulthood for AI/AN people, as opposed to a midlife peak for the general population.
  • Men vs. women: Suicide rates are three times higher in men in the AI/AN population than in women.
  • Suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts: Reported past-year suicide thoughts, plans, and attempts were higher among AI/AN adults than in the general population.

Suicide And Asian, Native Hawaiian, And Other Pacific Islander Populations

This group includes those who are descended from the Far East, Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, Hawaii, Guam, and Samoa.

Facts to know about the suicide rate among Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Other Pacific Islander populations in the U.S.:

  • Suicide rate: The overall suicide rate for this group is less than half of the overall U.S. population.
  • Peak rates: Peak suicide rates occur late in life for this group at age 85 and above.
  • Men vs. women: Suicide death rates in this population in the U.S. for men is two times that of women.
  • Suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts: Compared to the overall U.S. population, fewer adults and more youth in this minority group report suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts.

Suicide And Hispanic Populations

People in the U.S. who are considered Hispanic or Latino descend from Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Central America, South America, and other Hispanic cultures.

Facts to know about the suicide rate among Hispanic populations in the U.S.:

  • Suicide Rate: The suicide rate among Hispanic populations in the U.S. is 7.4%, or just over half the rate of that of the general population.
  • Peak rates: Suicide rates are steady throughout lifespans of Hispanic populations.
  • Men vs. women: Suicide is more than three times higher for Hispanic men in the U.S. than women, a higher rate than the general population.
  • Suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts: Compared to the general population, those who reported past-year suicide plans and attempts were lower in Hispanic adults, but higher in Hispanic teens.

Suicide And Black/African American Populations

Black and African American populations in America account for 13.4% of the total population. This group is descended from Black populations in Africa.

Facts to know about the suicide rate among Black/African Amerian populations in the U.S.:

  • Suicide rate: Black/African American populations see a suicide rate of 7.2%, which is just over half the rate of the general population.
  • Peak rates: Suicide rates peak during young adulthood and decline in this group.
  • Men vs. women: Black/African American men are three times more likely than women to die by suicide.
  • Suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts: Compared the general population, suicide plans and attempts are higher in Black/African American youth, and about the same in adults.

Suicide And White/Caucasian American Populations

White and Caucasian people in the suicide rate data below refers to those people who descended from Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.

Though Whites are not in the minority in the U.S. at 60.4% of the population, suicide rate information among Whites and Caucasians is included here for comparison.

Facts to know about suicide rates among White/Caucasian populations in the U.S.:

  • Suicide rate: The White/Caucasian suicide rate is higher than the overall U.S. population at 18%, but lower than that of AI/AN people.
  • Peak rates: Suicide peaks in midlife among White/Caucasian people in the U.S.
  • Men vs. women: White men’s suicide rates are three times higher than that of White women.
  • Suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts: Rates of suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts for White adults are similar to the general population, but slightly lower in White teens.

Risk Factors For Suicide In Ethnic Populations

Ethnic minority groups may face specific hardships, barriers to finanical and healthcare resources, and other factors that contribute to increased risk for suicide.

Risk factors for suicide among ethnic minorities and immigrants may include:

  • language barriers
  • concern for family in native country
  • loss of social support
  • being separated from family members

In addition, minorities and immigrant people may experience unique triggers that lead to high stress, eventually resulting in suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Potential triggers for suicidal behaviors among immigrants and ethnic minorities include:

  • lack of information/access to the health care system
  • loss of social status
  • being cut off from friends
  • acculturation, or learning to adapt to a new culture while maintaining the old culture

How Suicide And Substance Abuse Are Linked

Substance abuse is closely linked to suicide across all U.S. populations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), having a SUD is a risk factor for suicide.

Shared Risk Factors

Substance use disorders are linked to many of the same risk factors associated with suicide.

Some of the shared or similar risk factors of both suicide and substance use disorders are:

  • bullying
  • being victimized
  • being rejected by peers
  • child abuse, neglect, or mistreatment
  • chronic pain
  • family history of suicide/substance abuse
  • failing school
  • history of trauma
  • poverty (substance abuse) and financial troubles (suicide)
  • violence in the community (substance abuse) and violence in the home (suicide)
  • history of mental health disorders
  • social withdrawal

People With Substance Use Disorder Are Highly Susceptible To Suicide

Those who abuse substances are at an increased risk for both suicide and suicide attempts, according to SAMHSA.

In fact, suicide is the top cause of death for those who abuse drugs or alcohol.

And having both a substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health disorder further increases a person’s risk for suicide.

Suicide Risk Varies By Type Of Drug Or Alcohol Abuse

Different drugs of abuse come with different effects, side effects, dangers, and risks. These differences may impact a person’s risk for suicide when abusing them.

Suicide risk by form of drug abuse (compared to the general population):

  • alcohol use disorder: 10 times higher risk
  • injection drug use (i.e. heroin): 14 times higher risk
  • prescription opioids/opiates: 40% to 60% increased risk for suicidal thought; 75% increased risk for suicide planning; 200% greater suicide rate overall

In general, the number and amount of a substance used during suicide and a suicide attempt are more predictive of suicide than the type of substance used.

Substances are found present in a great many suicides and suicide attempts.

In fact, more than 230,000 emergency department visits related to suicide were reported in 2011, and nearly every admission involved a prescription drug or over-the-counter medication.

Substances found present during suicides include:

  • alcohol: 22%
  • opioids: 20%
  • marijuana: 10.2%
  • cocaine: 4.6%
  • amphetamines: 3.4%

Because of this, addiction treatment facilities must provide researched-based compassionate services to at-risk individuals.

Substance Abuse Rates By Ethnicity

Just as different ethnic groups experience varying rates in suicidal thoughts and ideation, rates of substance abuse can differ.

National data from SAMHSA revealed that the ethnic group that sees the highest rates of substance abuse in the U.S. is AI/AN at 28.5. That is, those who had used illicit drugs in the past year who were aged 12 and above.

According to the survey, 28.4% of AI/AN youth (aged 12 through 17) reported illicit drug use in their lifetime. For adults, the rate more than doubled to include 64.2% of the group’s population.

The rates of lifetime illicit drug use by ethnic group are as follows:

  • American Indians/Alaska Natives: 60.8%
  • White/Caucasian: 54.5%
  • Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders: 47.7%
  • Black/African Americans: 45.9%
  • Asian: 27.6%
  • Hispanics: 37.7%

Marijuana is the most widely abused drug among ethnic groups with a rate of 15.9% for past-year use.

Other commonly abused drug categories include:

  • opioids: 3.7%
  • pain relievers: 3.6%
  • tranquilizers and sedatives: 2.4%
  • hallucinogens, benzodiazepines, and cocaine: 2%
  • stimulants: 1.9%

Raising Awareness Of Suicide Risk During Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment has been shown to greatly reduce rates of suicide in many cases.

For example, research from the American Journal of Psychiatry found that among people who abused opioids, those who received methadone treatment were 20% less likely to commit suicide.

However, many individuals in recovery might experience more mental stress than they might outside of recovery. In fact, these groups may be more likely to commit suicide.

There are several factors that contribute to the increased risk of suicide among people in addiction treatment.

Physical Factors

A person entering addiction recovery is going through a range of unpleasant and difficult physical implications of drug abuse.

People tend to enter treatment at the peak of addiction when their substance abuse is at its worst.

This can include severe damage to a person’s body from long-term drug use, uncomfortable or painful symptoms of withdrawal, or cravings.

Each of these physical factors and more can put major stress on a person. Consequently, this time of entering treatment can be when they’re at the highest risk of suicide.

Environmental Or Life Factors

Someone going to addiction treatment may have also gone through a series of life changes with negative implications.

A person may have:

  • lost their job
  • damaged relationship with loved ones
  • run into legal or financial trouble
  • been evicted from their home

This instability and lack of social and financial support increases the chances of suicide for a recovering indvidual.

Even if treatment is going well and their body is healing from substance abuse, it can be difficult to face the reality of life outside of treatment.

Mental Factors

Symptoms of mental illness are often at their peak when a person is beginning treatment for substance misuse.

This can include mental illnesses and disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder (BPD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The stress of beginning a new program can introduce these issues or exacerbate existing mental health concerns.

Dual Diagnosis Care For Individuals With A Co-Occurring Disorder

Treating co-occurring disorders with a dual diagnosis program is essential for many individuals recovering from drug or alcohol addiction.

Clinicians and treatment specialists must be aware of the risks described above and practice regular screening for suicidal thoughts with their clients on a regular basis.

Many people enter treatment having experienced sexual abuse in their childhood, depression, problems with their marriage, or several instances of relapse, all of which are considered long-term risk factors for suicide.

If addiction treatment specialists are aware of these risk factors, they can be better equipped to watch for changes in behavior, thought patterns, and other signs of suicidal thoughts.

Read more about detecting the early signs of mental health disorders

Incorporating Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment Into Addiction Treatment

According to the 2019 National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services from SAMHSA, 55% of people in addiction treatment were diagnosed with co-occurring disorders.

Because substance use disorders and mental disorders are so common, treatment providers should be prepared to administer co-occurring disorder treatment by:

  • noting those in recovery who have a history of suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide
  • screening and evaluation of a recovering individual’s mental health
  • using behavioral therapies in treatment, such as group, individual, and family therapy
  • providing individualized yet equal treatment to those who do or do not have a co-occurring disorder
  • prescribing medications that may be necessary to treat a mental disorder

The treatment methods above have been proven to reduce symptoms of both substance use disorders and mental disorders, decreasing the risk of suicide among those in recovery.

Treatment Options For Different Ethnic Groups

In order to provide the best substance abuse treatment, it’s important that addiction treatment programs consider the cultural and racial background of an individual in recovery.

Factors to consider in treatment include:

  • suicide rates among each ethnicity
  • unique risk factors for minorities experiencing substance abuse or mental illness
  • challenges minorities might face in and out of treatment
  • finances

There are several drug rehab programs that can incorporate these factors and provide quality, individualized treatment.

Inpatient treatment is often the most successful rehab program because it allows the person in recovery to get 24-hour care.

Other programs, such as outpatient rehab or medication-assisted treatment (MAT), may also be successful in administering part-time treatment for those who cannot commit to a live-in option.

Other Helpful Resources

Here you’ll find more information on suicide prevention, substance abuse treatment, and other helpful resources: