Handling Grief and Addiction to Avoid Relapse

Published On: August 31, 2022|Categories: Addiction, Mental Health|

A big loss, like the death of a loved one can be hard to swallow. We might try to avoid thinking about it, find ourselves blaming others or feel depressed. Usually, we experience all of those emotions at different times following a death.

Grief is described as the deep sorrow that follows a loss. While this sadness can disrupt anyone’s life and lead to immense emotional pain, having an encounter with grief during addiction or recovery is doubly hard. 

In this article we’ll discuss the stages of grief, as well as grief’s effect on substance use disorders. 

The stages of grief

While there are multiple stages of grief frameworks, the most well-known and used were developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, and are the following five stages:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

These five stages help us understand and live with overwhelming feelings of loss. They are a common pathway that individuals use to protect themselves while acclimating to a new reality. 

The stages might not happen in a linear way. They don’t always occur one right after another, and there can be regression back to a previous stage in the course of healing. Sometimes, a person may have to cycle through the stages multiple times before truly accepting a loss.

The stages aren’t meant to be limiting or a prescription for how to best grieve, but an outline of common experiences. These stages of grief can put words to your emotions when you’re struggling to understand your response to death or loss.

Grief and addiction

Grief will happen to everyone at some point during their lives. Those who struggle with addiction are sure to encounter grief, too. While grief in itself is demanding, struggling with a substance use disorder at the same time can make healing even more complex.

Perhaps a friend of yours died from overdose, or a loved one passed away while you were in treatment. You may also be facing grief from the loss of employment or broken relationships due to drug use. 

Regardless of where your grief comes from, managing the complicated feelings that accompany the stages of grief will be an arduous task. 

Griefs effects on substance use

There are many substance use disorder dangers and threats to sustained sobriety, but grief may be foremost among them. Losing a loved one is earth-shattering and it can knock away your strongest supporters, leaving you feeling alone and helpless. Here are some things to watch out for with grief and addiction.

Emergency planning

The scary part about your coping mechanisms is that you won’t know if they’re strong enough until they’re put to the test. Even the most practiced deep breathing and meditation exercises could fail you in your moment of need. 

The best way to bolster your coping abilities is to have an emergency plan in place. Whether that involves texting your back up team or driving straight to a sober friend’s house, you need to have a plan in place when your tools have failed and you’re moments away from caving back into drug use.

Build up support

For someone who is in recovery, losing a loved one can be disastrous. After years of addiction, every remaining relationship matters, and it’s possible you could have lost an essential support person. 

The best way to manage grief when your loved one was a part of your recovery team is to focus on building your network beforehand, and leaning on your other supports more heavily when the time calls for it.

Engage in a more intensive level of treatment

Most treatment centers operate using a continuum of care, meaning that you can easily slide up or down a level depending on your current needs. If you experience a major setback, like the death of a loved one, you should be able to transition into a more intensive program without an issue.

Keep the goal in mind

The death of a loved one can feel like the end of the world, and returning to drug and alcohol use can seem like a welcome relief amidst so much emotional pain. However, this is the most crucial time to stay committed to your goal of sobriety.

Avoiding relapse while you’re experiencing grief is a tricky road to navigate, and every day will feel like a battle. When you seek help and put in the work, you can overcome any obstacle, though. 

Pyramid Healthcare can walk alongside you in your healing journey, helping you manage emotional triggers to relapse and bear through the stages of grief in a healthy way. Get in touch with Pyramid Healthcare to learn more today.

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