The Connection Between Grief and Addiction

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When thinking about the reasons why a person develops an addiction to drugs and alcohol, many people believe it centers solely around usage that got out of control. When a person begins treatment for a substance use disorder, they often find out something surprising. Often the addiction itself is not the problem; it’s the solution a person used to try to deal with the actual issues. For this reason, many people find that grief and addiction counseling pair well together. A lot of professional treatment programs incorporate grief and addiction counseling as a way to help their clients make the connection and begin to heal. 

How Grief and Addiction Are Connected

A lot of difficult situations in life can cause a person to reach for artificial ways to soothe themselves. Someone who got fired from their job or had a romantic partner end their relationship might reach for a few drinks to help soothe their pain. A deep-rooted painful issue such as grief may cause a person to habitually turn to drugs or alcohol. They mistake this for being a way to cope with the loss of someone. Unfortunately, what began as a stop-gap approach may turn into a full-blown addiction.

Using drugs and alcohol in relation to grief can go two ways. Some people will use substances in order to numb their pain. Others may feel so numb from the grief that they consume drugs or alcohol as a way to feel again. They hope it will jumpstart happier feelings, even if it only provides temporary relief.

Once a substance use disorder takes over, a person now has to cope with both their initial grief and the resulting addiction. If a related mental illness is also in play, like depression, this makes seeking treatment from someone who understands grief and addiction counseling important.

Many Life Events Can Trigger Grief 

Grief can be about the death of someone a person loves. This includes the deaths of spouses, parents, children, other family members, and friends. It can also involve the loss of a pet. Beyond just death, grief can occur as a reaction to other events. People often grief over a divorce or breakup with a romantic partner. 

People may grieve over the loss of a job that held great meaning for them, either by resigning from the job, being let go, or retiring. Many couples experience grief over a miscarriage or finding out they are unable to conceive children. For some people who experienced a childhood full of abuse or neglect, they end up feeling grief over the happier adolescence they wish they could have experienced.

Studies have shown that often when a person experiences some form of grief, their risk of developing a substance use disorder increases. Alcohol is classified as a depressant, which makes using it as a solution for feelings of mourning and loss counterproductive. While ultimately the temporary high of drinking or using drugs may feel like it masks feelings of grief, it’s akin to putting a Bandaid on a broken arm. Much more intensive treatment is needed in order to address grief and help alleviate its painful manifestations. 

What Grief Looks Like

A person grieving may exhibit many signs and experience various temperaments and feelings. These include:

  • Crying
  • Sadness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Feeling physical pain
  • Numbness
  • Despair
  • Guilt
  • Inability to move forward
  • Difficulty conveying emotions
  • Cloudy thinking and decision-making process

Grief does not have a timeline. No chart can tell a person that they have X amount of time to “get over” the loss they are grieving. Some people move out of the grief stage more quickly than others. 

How Grief and Addiction Counseling Work

A focus on grief during addiction counseling provides a two-fold benefit. Working on the underlying grief helps a patient acknowledge the impact of their loss and strategize how to move forward through the stages of grief. This type of focus in therapy sessions can help an individual separate from the person or process that constitutes the root of their grief. 

Grief does not need to be from a recent loss in order to have a long-standing, negative impact on a person’s life and sobriety. Many people who seek addiction counseling end up making a connection between their addiction and a loss that occurred years or decades earlier. As long as the grief process has not reached a resolution, a person remains at risk for continued addiction.

As a person progresses through their grief process, the need for drugs and alcohol to cope with it will begin to lessen. Learning to separate the grief from the cravings for substance abuse provides a real lightbulb moment for many. 

Treatment for Addiction in California

Launch Centers offers a progressive treatment program that helps people with substance use disorders. We also treat co-occurring mental health issues and people dealing with grief. Our beautiful Los Angeles location combines clinical and holistic treatments, along with educational and career coaching, in order to give you a well-rounded treatment experience.

We offer multiple types of therapy, including CBT, DBT, EMDR, art therapy, and experiential therapy.  

Call us today to talk about how our unique program can help you get started on the path to recovery.

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