Grief & Substance Abuse

Grief is something that every person on earth has to deal with at some point in their life. Sometimes the pain of losing someone close is too much to deal with, and turning to alcohol or drugs seems to be an easy way to escape. Abusing mind-altering substances as a way to deal with grief commonly leads to addiction. Eventually, the mind correlates the feelings of grief with the need to drink or use drugs. The problem is that this is a short-term solution to a long-term issue.

The Life of an Addict is Filled with Grief
Whether a person is in active addiction or in recovery, their life can be filled with grief. Substance abuse kills tens of thousands of people each year. With the opioid epidemic in the United States, many people are passing away from prescription pain medication or heroin overdoses. There are also thousands of people dying due to drug- and alcohol-related accidents or health issues. Those who become addicted have the tendency to create social circles of people who drink or use like they do. Because of these habits, it’s common for someone suffering from addiction to lose those who are close to them.

The difficult thing to grasp about the disease of addiction is that, although a person knows that someone they love died from the substance abuse, they will still continue to drink or use. Even in recovery, it’s difficult to find out that a close friend had relapsed and died when they went back out. People often say that those suffering from addiction not only have a problem with alcohol or drugs, but they have a problem with dealing with life’s issues. In order to truly recover from active addiction, a person must understand grief and learn how to work through it in a healthy way.

Working Through the Stages of Grief
When someone receives addiction treatment, it’s beneficial to receive grief counseling if the loss of loved ones is an underlying cause of substance abuse. It is beneficial for a person to prepare for loss while in treatment as well so they know how to deal with the inevitable situation when it comes their way. In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler Ross stated that there are five stages of grief that include denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While these stages might come in different orders for some people, they are completely normal.

In recovery from addiction, a person learns to feel their feelings, which can be extremely difficult at first. Someone who has been drinking or using continually for any extended period of time will not be used to having dealing with these feelings. The intense physical cravings and mental obsession to drink or use will be strong while a person works through their grief.  The person can and will learn that they can get through these feelings without drinking or using.

One of the most empowering parts about getting sober is realizing that you can get through grief without having to pick up a drink or use drugs. This not only helps you, but it helps others you meet who are trying to get sober as well. When another addict or alcoholic sees that you’re able to work through grief without drinking or using, it gives them hope that they can someday do the same.