The natural response to the pain and sadness that accompanies loss is called grief. Grief has no timetable for how long it will linger; it will last as long as it takes a person to adjust to life changes after loss, which could mean days, months or years. Grief can lead to feeling numb and removed from life. It can cause anger and frustration, and for some lead to anxiety disorders or depression. The natural reaction is to avoid the pain associated with grief. Some make life changing decisions such as moving or starting a new job. Others may cry, internalize their feelings, or lash out, and some attempt to cope with loss by
self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.
There are many ways and reasons that grief may lead to addiction, below are just a few.
Grief is hidden and never dealt with
As such an intense emotion, grief can be difficult to manage and denial can be strong. Hiding grief, whether consiously or unconsiously, will not make it disappear. Emotions are complex and need to be confronted head on and healed before they will subside. Unsolved grief, or grief that lasts much longer than usual, may lead to abuse that will help us to forget and ignore. Substance abuse can turn into a crutch and evolve into addiction.
Using drugs and alcohol can cause more negative feelings
Drugs and alcohol can cause us to feel numb. They can rob you of a current moment, but the elimination of pain is never long lasting. The use of drugs and alcohol have consequences, making the momentary relief not worth the cost. Alcohol and many drugs act as depressants in the body and can make you feel worse than before. Their use can lead to intensified negative emotions including anxiety, depression, shame, guilt and can cause health issues. The use of substances can also impact the ability to hold a job or maintain quality relationships. Both a physical and physiological addiction can develop, all for a short relief.
Replacing a person or relationship with a substance
Losing a loved one is difficult. In certain instances, individuals will try to replace the loss of an important relationship with another person or relationship. In other instances, replacement could be too painful so alcohol or a substance becomes an easy replacement. The empty feeling from loss is hard to fill and often times individuals will seek out relief, even if it is temporary. Substances seem like a means to escape which causes a dangerous relationship with drugs and alcohol. That is when an addiction begins.
Lack of proper coping skills
Trying to cope without the proper skills can make you feel like you are living without an instruction manual. Even if we are raised well by parents or experienced adults, we still can develop unhealthy coping mechanisms. No matter how smart or successful, some people may not have the ability to apply the proper skills when a personal tragedy strikes, despite being able to help others during their time of need. In our society, alcohol is a common coping mechanism. Advertisements can be seen alluding to being able to "relax", "cheer" or encouraging a drink after a long hard day. It is impossible to ignore how our society associates drinking with a positive emotional and physical response, despite actuality pointing in the opposite direction. With this in mind, it is no surprise that substance abuse is often turned to as a result of grief.
Treatment: You are not alone
Carrying emotional stress and pain can be a difficult burden, and does not have to be done alone. While loss is a part of life, there are healthy ways to deal with pain. Therapy, counseling or medication can assist with complicated grief. If you or a loved one has turned to substances, Bear River Health provides detox, residential, and outpatient programs. Treatment programs assist individuals in overcoming substance abuse, while dealing with grief. However, the process does not end there. Aftercare is essential to remaning on the right path to recovery. Take the first step in seeking treatment and speak with a professional that can recommend a program for your specific needs.
Additional Grief Resources: