Grief is an emotion that occurs after the loss of a loved one. Symptoms of grief may be denial, shock, guilt, or anger. The trauma that is experienced from a loss of this kind can be all consuming and debilitating, leading to substance abuse or the development of other mental health problems.
Grief can be a cause of major depressive disorder. When clinical depression is diagnosed, the person may have reached the level where they feel that there is no way to overcome their feelings. They may turn to drugs or alcohol to calm the pain of grief and depression’s dangerous symptoms like chronic exhaustion, agitation, insomnia, and suicidal ideation.
Substance abuse is when a person is consuming unhealthy amounts of drugs or alcohol. For alcohol addiction, people may show a change in behavior, like lying or hiding their excessive alcohol consumption. Changes in physical appearance (paleness, bloodshot eyes, redness), nausea, shaking, tremors, headaches, and severe blackouts are all signs of chronic alcohol abuse.
Drug addiction signs are similar, though drug abuse may also include itching and scratching. A common sign of drug addiction would be visible bruises, infections, or marks on the skin. The visible marks may be the injection or entry point for the substance.
Addiction becomes life threatening when the person using has an increased tolerance for a substance and is suffering from severe physical health damage. In-patient treatment can begin to address the perils of addiction. By seeking treatment, people will then have the opportunity to further address root causes, like grief and depression.
Substance Abuse Drowns the Pain
When people turn to drugs or alcohol, they do it to drown out overwhelming pain. Suppressing or altering grief through mood changing substances may provide fleeting comfort, but it will result in dangerous long-term issues. While drugs or alcohol lure people with the promise of a euphoric escape, the fixation on that feeling is how chemical dependencies develop.
Studies show that stressful or traumatic life events lead to increased alcohol consumption. If people have developed serious substance addictions connected to grief, the addiction must be addressed immediately. Drug or alcohol abuse is dangerous and may result in physical symptoms of memory lapses, chronic illness, loss of control, blackouts, and accidental or intentional overdoses. In-patient treatment and detoxification, followed by sober living will help rid the body of the harmful effects of substance abuse, so that they can then begin addressing causes connected to their addiction, like grief.
While people experiencing paralyzing grief should never block their pain with substances, they often do. Grief can be crushing and paralyzing, and many feel that they have no other choice but to pacify the pain.
However, grief can be expressed in numerous ways. Outlets like crying or yelling are normal signs and it is always safer and healthier, both in the short and long-term, to face grief head on.
One way to heal is to find a safe space to express the signs of grief. Additionally, talking about the pain associated with loss is beneficial. By slowly chipping away at it, the person becomes less consumed, eradicating the need for substances.
Therapy provides people with a safe and compassionate place to outwardly express feelings of overwhelming despair. While friends, family, or confidantes may be wonderful to turn to in times of sadness, they have limitations and may say the wrong thing, accidentally creating more stress. However, a therapist is a professionally trained mental health practitioner, who can provide guidance and verbal support during the stages of grief. They can help make things easier by urging the person to open up, to stay with painful feelings, and provide tips on how to handle grief independently.
Support groups are another beneficial way to manage and heal grief. There are many local and national services, which offer bereavement support groups for family members and loved ones. Hospitals, hospices, or non-profit organizations may offer specialized grief counseling as well. They provide, trust, understanding, and comfort. Bereavement groups provide a form of counseling in a comfortable and confidential environment. People who attend these groups are in similar situations. They are struggling with grief and are learning how to cope. During meetings, participants share their feelings and experiences. Those suffering from a loss come to realize that they are not alone and that others feel a similar way. This creates a sense of community, which can ease loneliness and pain.
Confronting Emotions & Stopping Addiction
Recent advances in technology show that people not only make mental connections and associations between emotions and traumatic events; the brain actually undergoes physical changes in response. So when an individual experiences grief (which is an effect felt from a traumatic loss), substance abuse is particularly harmful because it also can make additional changes to the brain.
Studies show that traumatic experiences create changes that remain that way long after the event itself is over. If the experience is suppressed and not confronted, the trauma may grow through the repetition of the memory. Complicated, prolonged grief causes changes in brain chemistry, due to extreme trauma. Grief should never be minimized or thought of as a thing that someone will just “get over.” Rather, it is important to take healthy, therapeutic steps to face inner grief and turmoil.
Crying to express grief is a sign of optimal mental health. When feelings match the reality of experiences, it means that the individual is not hiding or looking for avenues to bury pain. Anything that isolates us from truth is harmful in the long run, especially when it involves an individual’s mental health.
Healing from both grief and addiction is an ongoing and unpredictable journey. While healing the root causes of grief and addiction might be painful, it is always important to confront pain versus avoiding it. When grief is numbed, addiction will only exacerbate the problem.
Discovering community resources, consulting your physician, seeking support from recovery centers, starting therapy, or finding support groups are all excellent ways to manage grief and to stop substance abuse.