The Tragedy of 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, or physically 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 which occur internally can create difficult lifestyle choices and habits for both the individual and their relatives. 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.
Grief can be a result to a physical loss of a family member or symbolic of the person lost to substances. Families often grieve who their loved one was before they began using.
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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, previously-sober grievers may begin to drink to numb the pain. Slowly, they begin to drink more and more as a means to regulate their emotions and take the edge off. Binge drinking and heavier periods of episodic drinking occur more frequently as the drinker desperately turns to alcohol as a means of self-medication. This drinking habit may then develop into a full-on addiction, 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 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 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 an illicit substance is probably one of the most painful experiences someone can endure. Each day, America loses 115 people each day to drugs like Heroin, Oxycodone, and Methadone. In 2016, 17,087 people died due to Opioid addiction. Mothers tell stories of losing a teenaged child to a heroin addiction. Family members and friends who have lost someone to addiction experience a cycle of grief. These experiences can include:
Expressions of Grief
Expressions of grief include:
- Difficulty moving on
- Distracting one’s self
- Binge eating
- Binge drinking
- Increased negative emotions
- Mistrust in life or people
- Suicidal ideation
Emotions like guilt can create harmful habits which can affect the loved one. During these times, it is important for the relative or friend to maintain healthy relationships and find support in healthy ways in order to survive the emotional trauma of grief.
Grief and Unhealthy Coping Skills
Mourning can occur in response to consequences of substance abuse disorders a loved one witnesses. Emotionally distressing results of chemical dependencies can create reasons for some to “self-medicate,” or cope in other unhealthy ways. Situations like strained relationships, mood swings, a loved one’s declining health, overdoses, and job loss can often test the fate of many relationships involving grief and addiction.
Anxiety, Grief, and Benzodiazepines
Anxiety often follows grief for up to 6 months later after loss. This is known as complicated grief, and the identifying factor is anxiety someone feels. Complicated grief can cause people to turn to pills to soothe anxiety-fueled conditions they have developed after loss. An example is someone battling anxiety as they adjust to the death of a relative. Someone who was once level-headed can require higher doses of medication for relaxation. Because of their regular use of the substance, they can easily develop a tolerance, increasing the amount they need to find the same relief.
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. People who are dependent on Benzodiazepines often transition to harder, more potent chemicals, such as Opioids.
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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 grieve times when their lives were free of harmful substances. They 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 feels 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.
Start Healing from Grief and Addiction Today
Carrying the emotional trauma of a loved one who has passed can be a difficult battle and secret to bear. Support is available to help you mourn in healthy ways. Treatment experts can target which facilities specialize in grief and addiction.Call a treatment professional toay to discover what programs and treatments are most effective.
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