Dealing with the death of a friend or family member while in recovery can be a traumatic experience. Grappling with grief and loss can trigger cravings for the very substances you’ve been recovering from. In addition to that, grief can greatly impact your mental health, increasing your risk of anxiety and depression. Grief can also make you feel angry and frustrated. If you’re not careful, the combination of overwhelming pain and emotional stress can compel you to use drugs and alcohol as a way to numb your pain. Fortunately, grief and loss counseling can help you process loss in a healthy way and help support your recovery journey.
The Relationship Between Grief and Addiction
Even though grief is a natural response to the pain and sadness that accompanies loss, research shows that some forms of grief can trigger substance use and increase the risk of addiction. This happens because people grieving a loss often turn to addictive substances to try to rid themselves of the ongoing pain associated with their bereavement and mourning.
Consider the following statistics:
- According to a study published in the Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy journal, men who grieve for two years or more are more than twice as likely to have an alcohol use disorder than men who are not grieving.
- The Psychiatric Times reports that approximately 40% of people grieving meet the criteria for major depression one month after their loss, while another 24% of people remain depressed 2 months after experiencing loss.
- People experiencing complicated grief, a form of prolonged and unrelenting mourning that can grow worse over time, are particularly vulnerable to developing an addiction as they search for ways to escape emotional distress.
But self-medication isn’t the only reason people abuse substances while they grieve. Other common reasons include:
- Blocking out painful memories of the deceased
- Hiding emotions that seemingly indicate weakness
- Punishing themselves if they feel guilty about or responsible for the loss
- Initiating or provoking feelings if they’re experiencing unwanted numbness
- Distracting themselves from the pain
- Feeling lonely and isolated from others
Dealing with the overwhelming pain of loss can leave you feeling disoriented and lost, but luckily, grief and loss counseling can help you cope with your pain in a healthy, productive way that supports your recovery and maintains your sobriety.
How Grief and Loss Counseling Benefits Addiction Recovery
As the name suggests, grief and loss counseling is a type of therapy designed to help you cope with the loss of a loved one. In addition to helping you develop strategies for coping with your loss, a grief counselor can help support you as you move through the stages of grief.
Grief therapy won’t make you forget about your loss or allow you to bypass the pain of loss, but grief counseling can help you:
- Talk freely about your loved one
- Accept the reality of the loss
- Identify and deal with trauma
- Experience and express the full spectrum of your emotions
- Overcome guilt
- Cope with sudden life changes
- Build a support system
- Work through symptoms of depression
Grief and loss counseling benefit the addiction recovery process by helping people effectively deal with difficult emotions without relapsing. Here’s how:
Grief Counseling Encourages Healthy Emotional Regulation
Grieving evokes a wide range of powerful and intense emotions. Those emotions can include sadness, disappointment, frustration, anger, relief, surprise, shame, confusion, and loneliness. In 1969, Swiss-American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross observed that grief could be divided into 5 distinct stages. Grief can be different for everyone so not everyone experiences all 5 phases and you may not experience them in this particular order. The stages include:
- Denial. The shock and belief that accompany this stage typically happen right after a loss. You may feel numb and have trouble believing that the loss really happened.
- Anger. Often, anger hides many of the other emotions you carry. Whether redirected at other people, inanimate objects, or yourself, this stage typically manifests itself as bitterness or resentment.
- Bargaining. As you try to regain control of your life, you may find yourself creating a number of “what if” and “if only” statements in your head. Many people also try to make a deal or promise to God or a higher power in exchange for healing or relief from the pain.
- Depression. This “quiet” stage of grief can look like social isolation and feelings of worthlessness. You might also feel heavy, confused, or burdened by life.
- Acceptance. This stage doesn’t mean that you’re done grieving or that you’ve moved past the loss. But by this stage, you have accepted the loss and understand how it has impacted your life.
Grief and loss counseling can help you effectively manage all of these emotions, helping you realize that you don’t need drugs or alcohol to cope with challenging life situations.
Grief Counseling Addresses Loneliness
Most people experience loneliness and isolation after a loss. Unfortunately, these emotions can also trigger cravings for drugs and alcohol. Luckily, your grief counselor can create a safe, non-judgemental space for you to fully express your emotions. Your grief counselor might also invite some of your family members to attend sessions with you and show you various ways to support each other. Knowing that you are not alone can motivate you to find comfort in your support system rather than drugs and alcohol.
Grief Counseling Teaches Individuals How To Cope With Painful Changes
Experiencing grief is painful. Recovering from addiction is challenging. Life includes painful moments and challenging situations. Grief counseling can teach you how to cope with difficulty without using drugs or alcohol, which can help you maintain long-term recovery. Instead of suppressing your feelings, grief counseling can teach you how to express and deal with your feelings in a way that can lessen your risk of relapse.
Find The Support You Need In Our Community-Oriented Program
Here at Genesis Recovery, we are proud of our community-oriented program. Grief, of any kind, is painful, but experiencing loss doesn’t have to end in relapse. Our faith-based community can help uplift your spirit in the most trying times. Don’t try to cope with loss on your own.
Contact a member of our team today if you’re in need of a supportive, loving recovery community.