Grief And Addiction: How Unresolved Grief Leads To Addiction

Experiencing grief while having an addiction may be more common than most of us think. Although it may seem to be two separate conditions, they both greatly affect the success of one’s recovery. What is the link between grief, addiction, and recovery? Read to know more.

More often than not, people who suffer from addictions admit to experiencing some form of trauma. Whether it’s losing a loved one to addiction, accident, disability, abandonment, financial problem, or any other life tragedy, the taste of grief could bring people to self-cope with addictions.

The cycle of grief and addiction

What is grief? Grief is simply defined as a state of ‘deep sorrow’ which is often caused by losing a loved one. Essentially, people grieve mainly because of their perceived idea of loss. It could be the loss of a person, a pet, a job, status in life, or some other thing that the person sees as valuable. Although a negative emotion, grief is considered a normal part of life and people need to take certain steps to healthily cross from denial towards acceptance. When grief is managed properly, it could be an experience that could bring about growth and healing.

Grief and substance use disorder may go hand-in-hand because people who experience tremendous amounts of emotional pain try to find a way to mask it. Although there are other healthy ways to cope, some may try to find the easy way out through a temporary ‘high’. This results in the addiction causing more grief, which in turn goes into a cycle of substance use and a worse state of sorrow. For the majority of those with substance use disorders, grief and alcohol take turns in this cycle. For others, it could be grief and illicit drugs.

Statistics about grief

According to the website GriefSpeaks, many people will experience life-altering types of grief. They have described the teenagers and young adults of this time as a generation at risk. Their article shows us these grief statistics:

  •  50% have experience living in divorced or single-family homes
  • 30% are born to unmarried parents
  • 13% are born to teenage mothers
  • 8% live with neither parents

Additionally, these same people who have problems at home or experiencing grief are also part of the population prone to committing suicide. The present generation is at risk for unhealthy types of grief because of the increasing number of divorce rates and single-parent homes.

In terms of dealing with loss, it was reported that:

  • 8 million people in the US suffer from the death of a loved one yearly
  • 800,000 become widows and widowers annually
  • 400,000 people experience a death of a loved one before 25 years old

In a study found in NCBI, it was noted that a quarter of 200 patients come to psychological assessments after suffering some form of loss. The types of loss reported include separation, disability, bereavement, migration, relocation, job losses, and retirement. The extreme emotional pain that grief brings may be comparable to other mental health disorders.

This demonstrates that grief affects people from all stages and walks of life. There is a healthy way to grieve, as described in the step-by-step process abbreviated as DABDA.

What is DABDA?

The stages of grief, otherwise known as DABDA are elaborated as Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. People who deal with grief in a proper way usually go through these stages.

  • Denial: A sudden loss may make the person feel a sense of disbelief. Although he/she knows the truth, they may decide to escape by living in denial.
  • Anger: After some time, the person experiencing the loss feels angry and may shift the blame towards others, to a higher power, or himself/herself.
  • Bargaining: The strong emotions initially felt will turn into the person devising ways to hold on to the ‘last thread’ by pleading or asking to reverse the situation. This usually involves trying to fix the problem by talking to a loved one during a separation or talking to a higher power.
  • Depression: When all efforts in bargaining come to a close, the person experiences deep sadness because of the loss.
  • Acceptance: As all emotions are sorted out and resolved, the person finally experiences contentment with the situation.

It is normal to grieve and it is typical for people to go through these stages until they recover. In some instances, staying in a particular stage takes longer than usual, but the normal grieving process always ends in acceptance.

Issues in grieving

There are instances, however, that the process of grieving does not come easy for others. There are many issues that may come up that result in atypical grief:

  • Complex or complicated grief: This is when the pain of grief does not go away with the time that it impedes the resumption of normal life. The pain of complex grief may be so severe that a person needs immediate treatment. Signs of complicated grief include the inability to resume normal life, extreme sorrow, and constant rumination of one’s loss. People who have a history of depression are additionally at risk for complicated grieving.
  • Inhibited grief: Inhibited grief happens when a person does not show outward signs of mourning and maybe in the stages of denial. The person may display grief avoidance behavior along with this condition.
  • Delayed grief: This type of grieving happens not during the point of loss, but rather much later over prolonged periods of time. Delayed grief and panic attacks co-occur, along with nightmares and the inability to resume normal living.
  • Cumulative grief: Also known as grief overload, this is a condition wherein a person suffers multiple consecutive or simultaneous losses. Cumulative grief symptoms can include severe depression, isolation, and self-harm. The intense emotional pain may also cause grief-induced psychosis for others.
  • Complicated bereavement: A situation where a person mourning does not go through the normal stages of grief. Instead, he/she ruminates and is in constant sorrow about the loss.

How do issues with grief affect addictions?

People who deal with grief-related issues may suffer prolonged periods of emotional and psychological torment, so much that they may find ways to self-medicate. For example, losing a sibling to addiction may cause a person to suffer from complicated grieving. Often, losing someone to addiction can be so sudden that the person grieving may be stuck in cycles of denial and depression.

People may use alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication to numb the pain of grief. Once these substances wear out and tolerance for taking them increases, the person suffering tends to heighten their dosages which can cause substance use disorders.

In turn, substance use disorders intensify the feelings of grief. The person becomes dependent on alcohol, drugs, or prescription medications that they may suffer from intense depression, anxiety, psychosis, and other physical and psychological symptoms that affect one’s well-being.

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How does treatment for grief and addiction work?

Grief and addiction are considered dual diagnosis conditions, and each problem must be dealt with accordingly. One cannot resolve substance use disorder disorders without addressing the problem of grief, and the emotional pain will always be aggravated by untreated addictions.

There are various dual diagnosis rehabilitation centers available to cater to people suffering from grief and addictions. These grief treatment centers provide strategies that can help those with multiple mental health conditions. At Sunshine Behavioral Health, we provide a treatment plan for grief and any other forms of addictions that result from it. The entire assessment and management of this dual diagnosis usually involve the following steps:

Step 1: Initial assessment

People exhibiting signs and symptoms of prolonged, complex grief as well as substance use disorders may admit themselves to the medical facility of the rehabilitation center. He/she will undergo a series of physical and psychological tests to confirm the type and severity of the grief condition and substance use disorder.

Step 2: Results and recommendations

After having the assessment, the patient will receive the results and working diagnosis of his/her condition. They will additionally be provided with recommendations based on the signs and symptoms seen during the assessment. Some common recommendations include inpatient rehab and grief treatment, unresolved grief treatment, or installation in local support groups.

Step 3: Treatment

Once recommendations are confirmed and followed through, treatment will commence. Substance use disorders will be addressed by having a detox program coupled with a grief treatment plan. The grief treatment plan may include therapies, support groups, and holistic alternatives to help the patient resolve the prolonged emotional pain. The patient may be given a complicated grief therapy manual or a complicated grief treatment manual as a reminder of consistent steps to take for recovery.

Step 4: Aftercare

The commonly intensive treatment period will be followed by a long-term aftercare plan. Some patients are required to attend support groups for accountability, and others will be required to continue counseling with a mental health professional. There will also be an incorporation of new health habits that the patient can take to ensure the success of recovery.

Rise above your grief

If you are going through grief and substance use issues, know that this is not the end. There is hope for those who take the first step in seeking treatment. Rise above your grief and reach out to us and discover how we can help.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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