grief and loss

Grief and Loss in Addiction Recovery

Loss is an unfortunate part of life. While the death of a close one is the definition of bereavement, grief can come from many other sources. A divorce or any other change in an important relationship, change in health, change in an environment like retirement, financial insecurity, as well as death can cause grief.

If you are struggling with an active substance use disorder and/or you are on your road to recovery it is important that you take care of yourself during any grieving process. If you grieving are in need of bereavement services, the specialists at Sana Lake can help.

The Death of a Loved One Can be Stressful for Someone with a Substance Use Disorder

Sometimes the period right after a person dies can be especially stressful for their loved ones. The family or other loved ones have to make burial arrangements, plan and often provide food to many people during a reception, determine the loved one’s last wishes including cremation or burial if they have not outlined it in their will, and make many other decisions, about many other things that cannot wait.

Many people do not leave wills or any record of last wishes behind so their loved ones have to piece together what they want by word of mouth from other family members and friends.

If the person has left a will, it might be because they were suffering from a terminal condition. When a loved one suffers from a terminal condition their loved ones will often start grieving before the person passes away. This is not uncommon and it is completely valid. All of this can be extremely stressful.

Stress from Grief can Cause You to Relapse

Emotionally stressful situations are one of the top reasons for people with alcohol use disorder relapse. There are small physical changes that go on in a person that happens during emotionally stressful situations like different cortisol levels and changes in basal heart rate that physically trigger cravings while an individual is experiencing a very emotionally stressful situation.

What are the 5 Stages of Grief?

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross outlined the famous steps that people with terminal conditions like late-stage cancer go through. Only later did doctors started to apply the steps to the people the individual has left behind. 

The steps of grieving are:

  • Denial 
  • Anger 
  • Bargaining 
  • Depression 
  • Acceptance

The Steps of Grief are not Predictable

It is noted that one of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s regrets in life was the misunderstanding of her emotional model. A person does not always go through all of the steps, they might not go through the steps in that order, some combination of that, or they might go through all of the steps in that order. 

Some people cycle through several steps over and over. A person can be stuck in a certain phase. Substances are not a way out of a phase. If you feel as though you are stuck in a phase it is time to see a specialist like a therapist who specializes in grief and bereavement.

If you cannot find a therapist with grief and bereavement specialty you should go see any therapist. A therapist is a medical professional and they will be able to advise you on how to find appropriate health professionals. 

How Long Does Grief Last?

There is no set limit to how long bereavement, in particular, lasts or any set limit on how long grief in general lasts. Sometimes the loss of a loved one can cause bereavement for a few months. Other times it can last over a year. 

Can Grief Cause Depression?

 However, grief can sometimes turn into depression. If a person suffers from an addiction and another mental health disorder, it means the individual has co-occurring disorders.

It is important to note that if you develop depression, even if you have been on your road to recovery for years, you still have a co-occurring disorder. If you need help with a substance use disorder either because of a relapse or if you are getting help for the first time it is important to find a treatment facility that treats co-occurring disorders. You cannot treat only one condition. You must take care of all of your mental health conditions if you want to start healing. 

What Could I Feel During the Grief Process?

The process of acceptance of loss is not smooth. It can often feel like being on a roller coaster. However, most of these emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations that a person might experience are:

Feelings

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Blame 
  • Guilt
  • Sadness
  • Relief if it was seen as the person’s “time to go”

Thoughts

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Disbelief
  • Hallucinations 
  • Preoccupation with who was lost

Physical Sensations

  • Dizziness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Hyperventilating
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Weight loss or gain

Behaviors

  • Crying spells
  • Excessive activity
  • Irritability or aggression
  • Loss of energy
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable actives

Professional Help Can Stop You from Relapsing While Grieving

If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms to an extent that worries you or your loved ones it is important to seek professional help. A therapist or counselor who specializes in grief and addiction would be the best fit.

However, if you find yourself in a situation where you are experiencing cravings or thinking about using again but are unable to get to a therapist there are therapists many remote volunteer services that are offered for free.  

There are some services that provide free hotline services that are available in the form of text messages instead of a voice call. This is great if you are in a social setting where you cannot get away to call a hotline.

What Can I Do to Avoid Relapsing While Grieving?

It is important to get help before you relapse. You can guard yourself against starting the relapse process by:

  • Joining a bereavement support group
  • Calling a friend or other loved one and talk about the loss
  • Find a family therapist or a therapy group that you and your loved ones can go to help all of you through this time
  • Experiencing your emotions. During your stages of grief, it is important to not try to deaden your emotions. Suppressing your emotions can be very harmful. It can lead to:
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Overeating 
  • Drug and or alcohol consumption which would impair your road to recovery
  • Overeating
  • Sleeplessness
  • And many other problems

Problems like anxiety and depression can cause relapse on their own, but the problem is greatly enhanced when the person is grieving. It is important to take care of yourself. You cannot help your loved ones through the grieving process if you are abusing substances or in rehab.  

How Can I Take Care of Myself During the Grieving Process?

There are some things that you can do to take care of yourself during the grieving process:

  • Eat healthfully
  • Exercise
  • Continue post-rehab meetings like SMART or the 12 step meetings
  • Do not isolate yourself
  • Join a grief group counseling group
  • Continue to engage in your routine

Can I Reach the Acceptance Stage of Grieving if I Have a Substance Use Disorder?

There is hope. After a person goes the grieving process the last step is acceptance. Sometimes acceptance takes a long time, for other people acceptance comes relatively quickly. The important thing to note is the word relatively. Grieving is a complicated and very personal process. It is just as healthy for someone to go through the steps of grief relatively quickly as it is for someone to take their time. Having an addiction does not stop your chances of finding acceptance and peace after the death of a loved one.

What Can I do if I Relapse Because I am Grieving?

If you have strayed from your road to recovery due to grief, that is very understandable. Many people have problems getting over the loss of a loved one. For someone with a substance abuse problem, that loss might seem overwhelming. A substance abuse problem can often compound the ill effects of grief, making it feel unbearable. But it will be ok. We at Sana Lake can help get you back to your road to recovery after the death of a loved one.

Sana Lake

If you need help returning to your road to recovery after the loss of a loved one or if you know someone who does, please contact us today!

References

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/supersurvivors/201707/why-the-five-stages-grief-are-wrong

https://familydoctor.org/grieving-facing-illness-death-and-other-losses/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/end-of-life/in-depth/grief/art-20045340

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/bereavement

https://www.crisistextline.org/texting-in

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3788822/

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MDDavid Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.

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