The Relationship Between Grief and Addiction

Legacy Healing Center Blog

Many people in recovery from addiction might be mourning the loss of friends or family who succumbed to an overdose. Others may be experiencing grief from the loss of loved ones. Unfortunately, grief from losing someone to addiction can lead to substance abuse or worsen symptoms of an existing addiction. Here at Legacy Healing Center, a rehab facility, we want to make sure you understand the link between grief and addiction.

Addicts and family members in the early stages of recovery may not consider the role grief plays in their experience. Sometimes it is more obvious than others. We consider grief to be a natural reaction to life circumstances, like when someone has died, moved away, or when an important job or possession is lost.

What Does Grief Mean?

Grief is mental or emotional suffering or distress caused by loss or regret. It is especially used to refer to the feeling of sorrow and loss from the death of a loved one. Grief is a strong emotion, and it is sometimes overwhelming for people, regardless of whether it stems from themself or their loved ones. Furthermore, these emotions can arise at any time in life, whether we are young or old.

The 7 Stages of Grief

American-Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first introduced the five stages of grief in 1969. This has since been adapted to include seven stages of grief, though within them is room for debate. The seven stages of grief, in the order they typically occur, include:

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining 
  • Depression
  • Acceptance and hope
  • Processing grief

The Problem With Grief

It is normal to feel sadness after the loss of a loved one, but unfortunately, some people do not have adequate coping skills for managing grief. With healthy coping skills, grief lasts for a rather short period of time, after which a person returns to daily life while adjusting to the changes associated with the loss. On the other hand, some people may experience what is called “complicated grief,” which causes significant distress and difficulty with daily functioning. According to research, complicated grief may be especially common among those who have lost someone to an overdose because unexpected death is one of the risk factors for this form of grief.

Effects of Drug Use on Grief

People often respond to loss with an initial period of shock or denial, then a period of sadness. As they accept the reality of the loss, people start to work through the emotional pain of grief, eventually resolving and coming to terms with the loss. When people use drugs to ease their grief, they often end up trading temporary peace for long-term suffering. Using substances can cause unresolved or complicated grief that can persist for years, locking people into a cycle of grief and addiction.

Can Grief Lead to Addiction?

Grief and addiction are so deeply linked that addressing someone’s grief is often a significant part of recovery from substance use disorders. This is because, for many people, a loss they could not accept set them on the path to addiction. Unfortunately, death and pain can make many people question their sobriety and prompt the return of an urge to use drugs and alcohol.

Many people recovering from substance abuse disorders, like drug addiction or alcoholism, experience the death of a friend or family member while in recovery. If someone in recovery from addiction loses a loved one, it might be a good time to develop a healthy relationship with a higher power and reach out to a strong and supportive network of peers, such as the ones here at our rehab treatment center. 

For more information about our levels of care and other therapy programs, call Legacy Healing Center today at (888)-534-2295.

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