Losing a loved one is never easy, but when you are struggling with an addiction, grief can put you at risk for relapse. You may feel like you don’t know where to turn, but help is always available. Finding the right support can make a difference and help you work through difficult feelings without the need for a substance to mask the pain.
Grief can tempt both those who are in recovery and those who have never experienced addiction to turn to substances to avoid dealing with emotional pain. This might result in a person developing an addiction or relapsing from long-term addiction recovery.
We turn to addictive behaviors to escape strong emotions, and grief can inspire a whole range of intense emotions: anxiety, frustration, depression, guilt, anger, and sadness. And grief can be triggered not just the death of a loved one but by any big change, such as job loss or divorce. Older adults may be especially susceptible to the effects of grief as they deal with the deaths of friends, loss of a sense of purpose, and loss of their own physical and mental capabilities.
Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time. You should not feel pressured to get over your loss and move on, but at the same time, you should seek support if your sadness turns into long-term depression or if you are tempted to mask your feelings with excessive substance use. Facing your grief will allow you to heal and move forward with your life.
The Risk of Relapse
No matter how long a person has been sober, grief can introduce the chance of relapse. But returning to substances will jeopardize how much work you put into your sobriety. Instead, turn to resources such as 12-step meetings through Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, your sponsor, or grief support groups. Support and encouragement from others who understand what you’re going through will help keep you on the path of sobriety.
In addition to triggering strong emotions, grief may also bring other relapse triggers into your life. Attending a funeral or memorial service may put you back in touch with people who are toxic to your health; or you may be invited to go out with friends and loved ones to places that are dangerous for your recovery. Surrounding yourself with supportive people who understand your recovery can help you avoid triggers and keep you focused on your sobriety.
Don’t Neglect Yourself in the Grieving Process
It is not uncommon to neglect yourself while grieving. Giving up on regular self-care can be especially dangerous for those in addiction recovery. Continue your daily routines and habits to keep yourself healthy. Remember to:
- Get enough sleep
- Keep healthy hygiene habits
- Eat nutritious foods
- Engage in daily exercise
- Spend time with loved ones
Substances Can Worsen Grief
Abusing substances can only worsen feelings of grief, making it harder to overcome the loss. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can intensify negative feelings such as depression, anxiety, or guilt.
Not having a support system in place to help you cope with your loss can lead to a substance abuse disorder or worsen an existing one. Consider professional counseling to develop the necessary coping skills to deal with your loss.
Understand that you cannot replace a loved one with a substance. You may be experiencing pain and emptiness due to your loss and may feel that using drugs or alcohol will help you fill the void. But turning to drugs or alcohol as a way to numb your emotions can only worsen an addiction.
We Can Help
If you are struggling with a substance use disorder, help is available at Anabranch Recovery Center in Terre Haute. Our skilled team of professionals can guide you to recovery and design a program to meet your individual needs. Contact us today by filling out our confidential contact form online to find out more about our residential or detox programs.