Grief and Addiction

Grief and Addiction

Grief and addiction. The two walk hand in hand through many people’s lives. It may start with a death or another type of loss. The loss triggers a grief episode, and then the drugs, alcohol, or other favored substance follow, ready to bring comfort and provide an opportunity to forget, even if just for a little while.

For people battling addiction, grief can be such an overwhelming force that it can derail recovery. It is so powerful; it can even unravel progress for those otherwise on a clear and stable path. Moreover, the loss of the addiction itself can trigger grief, making recovery even more complex, confusing and difficult to navigate. That’s why it’s important to understand grief and develop healthy coping strategies for when loss inevitably occurs.

What is Grief?

Grief is the feeling of deep sorrow, regret, or remorse that an individual can experience after a loss. Often associated with the death of a loved one, grief can also emerge after the loss of a job, a friendship, a home, a marriage, or any other cherished possession or pursuit. Grief can also be a response to the loss of opportunity, the loss of identity, or the recognition of lost time that had been wasted or ill-spent.

The Way We Cope with Grief Matters

Just about everyone will experience grief in their lifetime, and the ways we process that grief can have a huge impact on our lives. Research has demonstrated that people with substance use disorders may be more prone to “complicated grief” or grief that deviates and is more prolonged and/or more intense than what is typical in a societal or cultural group. People with substance use disorders who experience complicated grief display more self-criticism, wishful thinking and emotional withdrawal.

Because intensely felt grief can elicit unpleasant emotions such as anger, sadness, loneliness and guilt, it can be tempting to employ coping strategies that help us drown out or ignore those emotions. These types of coping strategies are referred to as “avoidant” coping, and they include denial, minimization, generally avoiding the problem or the grief, and substance use. Avoidant coping behaviors are linked to increased stress, depression, alcohol and other substance abuse relapse.

Applying Healthy Coping Strategies to Grief Situations Can Help Prevent Relapse

Grief is painful. It is taxing. It is stressful. The churn of emotions associated with a profound loss is difficult to manage whether you have a substance use disorder or not. But if you don’t have adequate tools to deal with the pain associated with the grief, you may turn to the old soothing habits that jeopardize your recovery. When dealing with grief, it can become easier to justify substance use. You may think, the pain is too great, the situation is more than you can handle, and no one would judge you in this circumstance. If there were ever a time for a drink…it’s now.

This is why it is so important to develop healthy coping strategies that can be relied upon when times get tough.

Active Coping – A Healthier Approach

One of the healthier ways to approach grief is through active coping. Active coping is the opposite of avoidant coping, and it involves confronting your grief head-on rather than denying it or trying to suppress it. As counterintuitive as it may seem, feeling and accepting your grief is an effective way to manage it. Acknowledging the sadness and discomfort, and riding it through to its natural conclusion, like surfing a wave on the ocean, can lead to acceptance, which is the ultimate goal.

5 Active Coping Strategies for Dealing with Grief (And Other Life Stressors)

Active coping strategies are helpful tools you can employ during periods of grief and in everyday life. This list is inspired by the list featured in the pamphlet, Coping with Grief and Loss from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

  1. Stay Active, Eat Health and Get Plenty of Rest – Fresh air and fresh energy are proven mood boosters that can help with feelings of sadness and depression. Adequate sleep and healthy food are basics for building the strength to face each day.
  2. Talk – Find a friend or a support group and share your feelings. Getting these emotions off your chest and benefiting from the empathy of others can help ease the pain.
  3. Hold off on Major Decisions – Grief and other life stressors can temporarily change your perspective. By waiting until after the rocky emotions have settled, you can be better assured that you are making decisions with the appropriate amount of clarity.
  4. Go Easy on Yourself – Everyone grieves differently. There is no set timeline or order of operation. Part of healthy grieving includes allowing yourself the time and the space to get through the process.
  5. Find Your Tribe – It’s tempting to self-isolate when you’re in the midst of grief, but try to remember that grief is an experience that everyone must deal with in one way or another at some point – or many points – along life’s journey. Being with loved ones and friends can be healing and can be the salve needed to push through the temptation to self-soothe with drugs or alcohol.

Ultimately, navigating grief, like most of life’s challenges, requires coping skills that are useful across the spectrum of human experience. Practicing healthy coping when dealing with little stressors can help build the resilience and fortitude necessary for bigger challenges.

New Origins Helps Patients Develop the Coping Skills Necessary for Dealing with Life’s Challenges.

Coping, esteem-building, critical thinking, problem-solving and emotional regulation are effective tools in recovery. Our program is designed to help young men develop these skills for lasting sobriety.