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Coping with Grief and Addiction
Grief is the emotional reaction to a traumatic event, such as death, loss, or trauma. People experiencing grief can express it emotionally, mentally, socially, physically, creatively, spiritually, or by avoiding it and as a result, cope with it in various ways. Reactions like shock and delayed responses are common ways people react to sudden negative changes. Emotions surrounding grief often create internal turmoil, which can cause the person to exhibit signs and symptoms of emotional distress. Grief and addiction are closely related. Grief often causes an individual to begin abusing substances, worsen their substance abuse, or potentially even fuel an addiction. On the converse, addiction often causes the loss of a loved one, which causes or worsens grief.
Common Expressions of Grief
When people experience grief, they usually express it in one or more of the following ways:
- Symptoms of depression or sadness
- Anger outbursts or apathy
- Self-destructive behavior, ie. self-harm/substance abuse
- Change in sleep habits
- Pretending nothing has happened
- Talking with family members about loss
- Creative expression, such as art projects or writing
- Experiencing difficulty moving onInappropriate behavior, such as laughing at times where laughter is not considered appropriate
- Distracting one’s self
- Binge eating or drinking
- Experiencing Increased negative emotion
- Mistrust in life or people
- Suicidal ideation
- Managing feelings related to grief by meeting with therapist or related professional
Emotions like guilt can create harmful habits which can affect the loved one. During these times, it is important for relatives and friends to maintain healthy relationships and provide support in healthy ways in order to survive the emotional trauma of grief.
Common Causes of Grief
People grieve for hundreds of reasons. Some of the reasons people grieve include, but are not limited to:
- Death of a loved one
- Personal injury or illness
- Loss or change of job
- Change in health of a loved one
- Sexual difficulties
- Loss if innocence or childhood
- Financial problems
- Family changes or problems
- Major life changes
- Legal issues
- The holidays
- Loss of trust, approval, safety, or control
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How Grief Causes Addiction
Losing a person you love is one of the most painful trials and tribulations one can experience in life. This pain can lead to psychological stress and the development of substance use disorders in an effort to cope with the onset of grief. It is not uncommon for someone who loses their son, daughter, wife, or husband to experience a range of emotions that fluctuates from denial and rage, to depression and despair. In response to this onslaught of emotions, even previously-sober grievers may begin to drink or do drugs to numb the pain, and those with a predisposition to or history of substance abuse are at even greater risk. Slowly, they begin to drink or use more and more as a means to regulate their emotions and take the edge off. Binge drinking and heavier periods of episodic drinking or drug use occur more frequently as the drinker desperately turns to alcohol and drugs as a means of self-medication. This drinking habit may then develop into a full-on addiction, (in the case of alcohol better known as alcoholism), as someone begins to need alcohol just to function.
Grief can take a serious toll, even on the most resilient of people. Alcohol and drugs may seem like an easy and often comforting coping mechanism to those grieving the loss of a loved one, but it is ultimately only one of self-destruction. Abusing alcohol and drugs gives way to further negative emotions that can make it even harder to work through grief. It is important that individuals going through the grieving process receive the help they need and express their emotions in positive ways rather than turn to alcohol as a means of self-medication.
Grieving the Loss of a Loved One to Addiction
Losing a loved one to a substance use disorder is probably one of the most painful experiences someone can endure. Each day, America loses 115 people to drugs like Heroin, Oxycodone, and Methadone. In 2016, 17,087 people died due to Opioid addiction. Family members and friends who have lost someone to addiction experience a cycle of grief. These experiences can include:
Complicated grief, or persistent complex bereavement disorder, and is usually caused by the death of someone close to the affected person. It is much more severe than regular grief, and may cause someone to have trouble moving on for months, years, or longer. One may find themselves avoiding social contact, losing motivation to complete daily tasks, or wishing that they had died, too.
Symptoms of Complicated Grief
- Hyper-focus on reminders of your lost loved one
- A persisting overall feeling of numbness
- Feeling bitter when thinking about your loss
- A loss of purpose or motivation
- Loss of trust in family, friends or acquaintances
- A prolonged inability to enjoy life
- A persisting and powerful pain when thinking of your lost loved one
Anxiety, Grief, and Benzodiazepines
Anxiety often follows grief for up to 6 months after loss, which can cause people to turn to pills to soothe their emotions. This is especially true of Benzodiazepines, which are some of the most commonly prescribed anxiety medications and some of the most addictive drugs on the market. After being prescribed Benzodiazepines to ease anxiety, many individuals being to crave the drug, or something stronger. Benzodiazepine addiction is very dangerous in its own right, but can also lead to mixing alcohol and other drugs, which can greatly increase the risk of overdose and other dangerous complications.
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Grieving the Loss of Innocence and Joy
Grief and addiction are connected in many ways. The individuals struggling with the disease of addiction may grieve times when their lives were free of harmful substances. They may grieve moments when they weren’t withdrawing from harsh chemicals, perhaps when they led a simple life with a plan of action they committed to. Finally, they may mourn memories of when their relationships were uncomplicated and not destroyed by the abuse of addictive substances.
As a result, the individual may feel as if they have disconnected with their core joy and purpose in life, grieving goals, wellness, and peace of mind. Reflections of life before addiction may reveal a downward spiral of a loss of control and feelings of isolation. Hence a host of overwhelming emotions begin to resurface.
Underaged substance abusers, such as middle and high school students may sense they are not like other kids who don’t abuse illicit substances. Some may use substances to repress troubling memories of early childhood trauma. By the time they enter high school and college, they have struggled with maintaining their youthful innocence as they have used harmful substances to cope.
Grief and Healthy Coping Skills
It is helpful to cope with grief in healthy ways as grief has several forms, each impacting people differently. Some (but not all) types of grief include:
- Normal grief
- Chronic grief
- Anticipatory grief
- Exaggerated grief
- Delayed grief
- Traumatic grief
- Absent grief
- Other forms of grief
The bereavement following the loss of someone who has used drugs can transform loved ones forever. During this time, the family member, friend, or spouse may feel anger, numbness, or sadness. Such a loss can make it difficult for a family member or friend to move forward in life. Family and friends may focus on the loss of their loved one and struggle with accepting their passing.
Family members should also find strong support groups encouraging love and acceptance. This allows for everyone to remain connected to the present and have someone to lean on during a crisis. Likewise, family members should continue to eat healthy, get good rest, and consider talking to a therapist. Therapists offer the needed guidance for people struggling with such loss, and identify unhealthy patterns of behavior. Therapists can also teach healthy coping skills for grief.
Start Healing from Grief and Addiction Today
Carrying the emotional trauma of a loved one who has passed can be a difficult battle. Support is available to help you mourn in healthy ways. Treatment providers can target which facilities specialize in grief and addiction. Call a treatment provider today.
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