Losing a loved one, going through a divorce, experiencing a loss of identity, maneuvering through the loss of employment, losing housing to a natural disaster— these are all significant losses that are often followed by deep sorrow.

Grief is the emotional anguish that follows a loss, and the experience is incredibly unpleasant. Even if you’ve lived through a big loss before, each experience of grief can feel insurmountable. 

If you’re experiencing grief in the midst of an addiction, it can feel like climbing two impossible mountains at the same time. We’re here to tell you that, though the road is hard, recovery is possible. Here are the answers to questions you’ve been asking yourself about grief’s effect on substance use disorders.

What are the stages of grief?

The first thing you’re likely to come across when you’re healing from a loss is the five stages of grief. Though the stages have a natural progression and often occur in order, it’s not uncommon to cycle through them in an individual pattern or cycle through them several times.

  1. Denial: when an event is too overwhelming to accept at first, rejecting the reality of the situation is a common coping tool. This allows you to absorb the information more slowly so it feels less harsh.
  2. Anger: this stage of grief is characterized by dispersing blame, another way of ignoring the reality of the situation. It’s easier to cast responsibility for the tragedy on someone else than to process and accept it.
  3. Bargaining: this phase is filled with questions about what could have been. It’s the opposite of anger, and instead of blaming others, a person will feel like they could have done something differently to change the outcome. It’s often accompanied by feelings of guilt.
  4. Depression: while depression generally has a very negative connotation, this stage demonstrates progress in the bereavement process because it designates a shift toward acceptance. Note: clinical depression and depression after a loss are different and require separate treatment routines.
  5. Acceptance: realizing the reality of the situation and adapting to a new normal are signs of acceptance. This stage doesn’t equate with total healing, rather it indicates a movement forward.

The stages of grief can be vaguely described in this fashion, but they’re not always easy to label in real life. However, even a general outline of what’s normal during grief can help you understand your own emotions and behavior, and help you to find a path forward.

What is the relationship between grief and addiction?

Grief on its own is a battle. It’s even harder when your life is affected by a substance use disorder. Healing from a loss and addiction at the same time is a tricky task, but it’s much better than leaving one issue unaddressed.

The overpowering painful experience of grief can feed the fire of addiction. Even those who are committed to treatment can find their resolve to stay sober shaken by the death of a loved one or another loss. 

Grief can test your coping skills, emotional regulation, support systems and your devotion to recovery to the breaking point. Grief can be so strong it can even be the stimulant of the beginning of a substance use disorder. Many people will be able to identify grief as a factor when processing the origins of their substance use disorder.

And sadly, a loss is a common theme for individuals in recovery. Those in addiction treatment may have faced job loss, damaged relationships with spouses and children, loss of identity, threatening diagnoses and other forms of loss. 

How do I heal from grief and addiction?

One of the largest substance use disorder dangers is grief. While you may be able to fight against most daily triggers, for even the strongest person losing a loved one can jeopardize the progress made in treatment. The best way to ensure you don’t regress in recovery is to get professional help for grief and addiction.

When you seek professional aid to manage grief and addiction you’ll likely start counseling in a group or one-on-one setting, depending on your needs and preferences. Inpatient treatment may be required based on the severity of your mental and physical health symptoms and the extent of your substance use disorder.

In addition to counseling, medication may also be prescribed to manage your symptoms. Your care team can help you make lifestyle changes to adapt to your new normal. A significant loss and the absence of substance will require major changes when you return to your normal routine.

Grief’s effect on substance use disorders is significant, but the good news is that you can find healing from both in time. With careful management of triggers, emotional support and tools to help you stay on track, you’ll rediscover a fulfilling life you can be proud of.

Get back on track with Real Recovery. With experts who can help you through grief and addiction with evidence-based recovery, you can kick a substance use habit sooner than you think. Call now to learn more.