Grief is an emotion that occurs after loss, especially the loss of a loved one. Symptoms of grief may be denial, shock, guilt, or anger. The trauma experienced from a loss of this kind can be all-consuming and debilitating, causing some individuals to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope or develop 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.
Understanding the connection between grief and addiction can help you reach out for help when you need it.
Substance Abuse Vs. Addiction
Substance abuse is characterized by the unhealthy consumption 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, nausea, shaking, tremors, headaches, and severe blackouts are signs of chronic alcohol abuse.
The signs of drug addiction 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. Inpatient 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.
Using Drugs or Alcohol to Cope with Grief
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, resulting 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 any or all of the following:
- Memory lapses
- Chronic illness
- Loss of control
- Accidental or intentional overdoses
Inpatient treatment and detoxification followed by sober living will help rid the body of the harmful effects of substance abuse to begin addressing causes connected to their addiction, like grief.
How to Heal from 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, stay with painful feelings, and provide tips on handling grief independently.
Support groups are another beneficial way to manage and heal grief. Many local and national services 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 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.
Help for Addiction and Grief at Westwind Recovery®
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 stop substance abuse. At Westwind Recovery®, we offer personalized treatment programs in a safe, supportive environment. Take the next step in your journey to recovery today by contacting our team at 855.340.8832.