Drug and alcohol addiction is a serious problem that affects everyone in one way or another. Because addictive substances provide temporary but powerful feelings of euphoria or happiness, even casual misuse can quickly progress to full-blown addiction. Alcohol and certain kinds of drugs can provide relief for people who struggle with mental health issues and a variety of physical issues.
Addiction is a chronic condition with ongoing consequences, including grief. Grief influences people on all sides of an addiction scenario. People who may specifically struggle with addiction-related grief include:
- People with an addiction
- Parents and families of people who struggle with addiction
- Loved ones and friends of people who struggle with addiction
Substance abuse doesn’t have to be the final chapter. Addiction recovery is a well-researched and effective process. There is hope for people who find themselves or their loved ones struggling with substance abuse and addiction. Even in hope, however, there can be seasons of grief as people walk the road of recovery.
Grief from Substance Abuse Loss
Substance abuse causes losses for multiple people. According to experts at the National Cancer Institute, grief is an emotional process of reacting to loss. Reactions to grief may include numbness, disbelief, anxiety, distress, mourning and depression. Grief reactions vary in intensity and may be traumatic or pathological. The timeline and process of grief will also vary from person to person and should be overseen by mental health professionals.
People who are in addictive patterns experience losses that can elicit feelings of grief. Many do not realize the extent of what they lose as they persist in destructive behaviors:
- Loss of health
- Loss of trust
- Loss of relationships
- Loss of finances and stability
People who struggle with addiction may also experience other losses as they enter recovery:
- Loss of friends and family who supported addiction behaviors
- Loss of lifestyle elements, including the “fun” and social aspects of addiction
- Loss of time as recovery displaces them
For people close to someone who struggles with addiction, the losses they experience can also be extensive and painful, and may include:
- Loss of close relationships
- Loss of innocence or optimism
- Loss of loved ones altogether through death
There are many stories of how grief from substance abuse loss can have lasting effects in people’s lives.
Grief can be related to many other mental health challenges, including anxiety and depression. Grief before, during and after substance abuse can persist and be amplified by existing co-occurring mental health conditions. When this is the case, grief should be addressed in counseling so that it is processed and does not persist and cause additional mental health challenges.
What Are the Consequences of Drug or Alcohol Addiction?
Drug and alcohol addiction can be isolating conditions that leave people feeling unwelcome or alone. The challenge is that addiction happens to regular people who have family and friendships. Both the person who struggles with addiction and the people around them suffer various losses as a result of substance abuse. This loss will often lead to grief.
According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, there are different kinds of grief. Many kinds of grief will accompany addiction issues.
Grief That Anticipates
This kind of grief may be prominent in the parents or loved ones of people with severe addiction issues. They suffer from grief as they expect something adverse to occur as a result of substance abuse.
Grief That Is Ambiguous
Grief that is ambiguous may also be called disenfranchised or unauthorized grief. This is a complex condition that may result from a loved one’s death by suicide or substance abuse. Because these kinds of deaths are taboo in society, the person grieving may feel guilty about their grief, which can create a complex dynamic that prolongs the grieving process.
Grief That Is Inhibited
Inhibited grief may persist for people who find it hard to express themselves or emotionally engage with themselves and others. The parents and friends of people with addiction issues may feel alternatively angry and devastated. Their anger may preclude a healthy grief journey.
Prolonged grief has multiple consequences, including but not limited to:
- Antisocial behaviors
Grief is a highly stressful state of mind. It can affect someone’s health and well-being in significant, even deadly, ways. Grief should be taken seriously and treated before it has long-term consequences.
Recovery from Grief
In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote a book called On Death and Dying. This was the first time that stages had been assigned to the grief process. These stages have proven accurate over the last several decades and can offer an understanding of how someone recovers from grief. The five stages of grief are:
Grief itself can be a catalyst for substance abuse. Using drugs or alcohol to numb the pain of a loss or difficult time is common. It is important that people who feel vulnerable during times of grief do not fall into substance abuse.
In some cases, substance abuse issues develop because people are:
- Lonely after the loss of a loved one
- Highly stressed after a significant life change
- Being abused by a spouse or significant other
- Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder
One of the first guidelines people who feel susceptible to substance abuse can impose is to stay connected to a support system. Having people in their lives who are attentive to their mental state can be helpful. Outside observers who care about the individual’s well-being can challenge drinking or consumption behaviors that are concerning before these behaviors turn into addictions.
Carlos Davila is an Awareness Advocate at The Recovery Village.
National Cancer Institute. “Grief, Bereavement, and Coping with Loss (PDQ).” Published April 20, 2017. Accessed July 7, 2019.
National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. “Types of Grief and Loss.” Accessed July 7, 2019.