Losing a loved one is an incredibly painful experience that can cause people to react in a number of ways. Most people are forced to deal with a variety of emotions including anger, sadness, and denial. While the emotions people face after the loss of a loved one are often universal, most have their own unique way of dealing with the loss. For some, the grief associated with loss is enough to start self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. For those who are in recovery, the experience of loss can be enough to cause relapse. Even the most resilient people are susceptible to the side effects of grief and loss, especially in cases in which the grief goes unresolved. Regardless of how a person copes (or does not cope) with loss, it is important to consider the risks of abuse and relapse to help people through times where they may be most vulnerable.
Grief and Mental Health
The loss of a loved one can cause a person to display a number of physical, behavioral, or social responses. These manifest differently in people. Some may find themselves experiencing serious emotional changes that can be risky, especially if they are not addressed properly. While there is no “normal” way to grieve the loss of a loved one, there are exercises, services, and activities that can be beneficial for someone who is grieving.
Although some may struggle with expressing themselves, it is important to discuss emotions and experiences when healing. Some people may choose to act as if nothing has happened by either not acknowledging the loss has occurred or refusing to speak about the person. This can be common in situations where a loved one passes away as a result on the person’s actions (for example, driving under the influence). Others may find it difficult to talk about anything other than the person they lost. These two extremes can lead to a sense of unresolved grief, which can make it difficult for a person to manage their everyday responsibilities.
Grief can also trigger the development of mental health disorders. In some cases, a person may develop clinical depression. They might have difficulty sleeping or concentrating, feel helpless or hopeless, and feel a general sense of fatigue that never goes away. Depression can increase a person’s risk for suicidal thoughts and tendencies, and it is not uncommon for a person to express wanting to be with a loved one they have lost. This can in a way romanticize suicide in a person’s mind and be incredibly dangerous.
Grief and Recovery
Grief can often be the cause of substance abuse or the reason relapse occurs. Because of this, it is critical to address grief in a proactive manner. There are numerous strategies to help cope with grief in a healthy way. These include:
- Reaching out for support: Rather than internalizing grief, reaching out for help is critical. Connecting with friends and family members can help you overcome the early stages of grief, which are often the most difficult. This is the time when people are most at risk for drug or alcohol use, making it especially critical to stay connected with others.
- Acknowledge how you feel: Grief can make a person experience a wide array of emotions, sometimes within a short span of time. Some may choose to use drugs or alcohol to avoid feeling the more intense sensations of pain or sadness. Rather than self-medicating, it is important to allow yourself to experience the emotions so that you can move forward in your grief. This will allow you to process your feelings and come to peace with them.
- Connect with support groups: Support groups are crucial in recovery and can be an asset in managing grief as well. Meetings allow you to surround yourself with people who can readily relate to and understand your experiences. This can remove feelings of isolation and provide additional support during critical times.
- Express yourself: It is important to learn how to express your feelings in a healthy way. Some ways to do this may be through writing, drawing, painting, or other creative outlets. You can use these outlets to pay tribute to your loved one while simultaneously working through difficult emotions.
- Practice healthy habits: When grieving, it can be difficult to manage healthy practices. It is easy to develop poor eating and sleeping habits when you are not properly managing your grief. It is important to ensure you are getting proper nutrition and adequate sleep, otherwise the risk of relapse increases. Some other healthy habits may include using prayer or meditation to acknowledge your emotions and manage cravings. These practices can help you address emotional needs while simultaneously allowing you to process feelings of grief and deal with them in a healthy way.
While there is no way to completely take away the pain experienced when grieving the loss of a loved one, there are tools to help you better manage it and protect your sobriety. Grief can last for any length of time making it critical to plan ahead so that you are not caught off guard during vulnerable times. This may mean taking time away from work or planning additional counseling sessions. Whatever strategy you take, it is important to prepare well in advance to prevent relapse and avoid setbacks. Click here to read about some natural remedies for depression.
Struggling with loss? Is your sobriety at risk?
Call 800.465.0142 to speak with an admissions counselor.