Grief and substance abuse are often life-changing experiences. People who process their grief in a healthy manner can regain their capacity for joy and rediscover hope and gratitude. But if a person responds to grief by abusing alcohol or other drugs, life can take a decidedly darker turn. The link between grief and substance abuse can be strong, but it is far from unbreakable. With support, you can prevent the pain of loss and the agony of addiction from overwhelming your life.
What is Grief?
Grief is the powerful and painful reaction that people experience in the aftermath of a loss. The death of a loved one is perhaps the most common cause of grief. But this isn’t the only experience that can prompt people to grieve. Other sources include the death of a pet, the end of a relationship, and the loss of a job. In each of these cases, the loss of someone or something important triggers the onset of grief.
Anger, distress, denial, sadness, inability to sleep, loss of appetite, and anxiety are among the most common grief reactions. However, this is not a comprehensive list of how people grieve, nor is it a description of the reactions that every grieving person has. The amount of time that people grieve and the ways they experience grief can vary considerably from person to person.
Factors that influence a person’s grief may include their age, cultural norms and expectations, support network, ability to manage stress, religious faith or philosophy of life, and the presence or absence of mental health concerns.
Grief is a normal, healthy response to a significant loss. But if a person has severe symptoms of grief for an extended period of time, or if they engage in substance abuse due to grief, they may benefit from professional help.
The Link Between Grief and Substance Abuse
Using alcohol or other drugs is an unfortunately common way that many people deal with stress, personal setbacks, and sadness. Given the profound emotional pain that many people feel following the death of a loved one, it’s no surprise that substance abuse is linked with grief.
Several studies have explored various aspects of the link between grief and substance abuse. One study in Frontiers in Psychology, found an association among complex grief, poor coping skills, and substance use disorders. Another study in the August 2019 edition of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found “evidence of a positive relationship between complicated grief and substance misuse.”
Ways Grief Can Lead to Substance Abuse
Though researchers have found links between grief and substance abuse, determining a cause-effect relationship is not simple.
For example, the authors of the August 19 study noted that people with a history of substance abuse may be more likely to struggle with complicated grief. But they also reported that the onset of complicated grief can put a person at increased risk for alcohol abuse.
When we look more closely at the relationship between grief and substance abuse, we can see many reasons why emotional pain may push someone to use alcohol or other drugs.
Hiding From Grief
The desire to avoid or hide from the pain that’s associated with grief is understandable. But neglecting to properly process negative emotions can cause an array of additional difficulties. If a person tries to hide from grief with alcohol or other drugs, the resulting problems can include physical damage, emotional harm, and the onset of addiction.
Using Drugs and Alcohol to Cope
As noted earlier, many people have developed a habit of using alcohol or other drugs to cope with stress, pressure, and other difficult emotions. For these types of people, their immediate reaction to grief may be to increase their substance use.
Replacing a Lost Loved One with a Substance
After losing a loved one, the thought of getting through the day without them can feel overwhelming. Some people drink alcohol or use drugs to fill the empty hours that they’d previously spent with their loved one.
Lacking Proper Coping Skills
Poor coping skills are often the link between grief and substance abuse. People who struggled to properly manage stress or cope with pressure before they lost their loved one may find themselves unable to respond to grief in a healthy manner. For people in this situation, substance abuse may offer an alluring albeit harmful escape.
Dealing With Grief Without Substance Abuse
There’s no simple set of instructions for navigating grief. But nearly every expert would agree that avoiding, hiding from, or numbing yourself to your pain is ineffective and self-destructive.
To move forward after a significant loss, you need to acknowledge what you’re dealing with to take steps to protect your health. For this to happen, you need to break the link between grief and substance abuse.
When you free your mind and body from alcohol and other drugs, you increase your mental clarity and physical strength. Both of these beneficial developments can help you as you build a healthy life in the aftermath of loss.
Also, when you get professional treatment for addiction, you can learn how to develop more effective communication, stress management, and conflict resolution skills. In addition to helping you remain in recovery, these skills can be powerful tools in your effort to prevent grief from overwhelming your life.
Get Help for Grief and Substance Abuse in Nashville, TN
If your life has been affected by the pain and despair of grief and substance abuse, please know that you are not alone. Our team at Brentwood Springs Detox in Nashville, Tennessee, is here to help. When you get the treatment you need, you can live the life you deserve. Visit our admissions page to learn how we can help.