Why is it important to talk about the connection between grief and addiction? Grief can make sobriety harder. And addiction can make grief feel impossible. Researchers have shown that grief after the death of a loved one can increase someone’s risk for addiction, substance or alcohol use, or relapse.
The pain of grief can be immense and people often try to find things that will numb that pain; sometimes that is alcohol or other substances. And if someone is already at risk for addiction, or has a history of alcohol or substance use, avoiding grief can turn into a cycle of use, guilt, and pain. And that makes sobriety, or even reducing use, very difficult.
I was high at my mother’s funeral. I just never dealt with it.
Grief is both unique and ubiquitous. Everyone will experience it at one point in their life; and everyone’s grief journey is different. Research about grief and how it affects people, spans a century, and researchers and clinicians continue to try to find ways to help people deal with the pain and aftermath of losing a loved one.
Much of grief research looks at grieving the loss of one person. Those who are touched by addiction experience, especially within the opioid crisis, know many more losses than that.
They used together but one woke up and the other one didn’t.
The higher number of deaths, closer together, that someone experiences, the more likely that complicated grief, or even traumatic grief, can develop. Add to that months or years of grief distorted by continued use and it’s a recipe for depression, anxiety, guilt and possibly symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder.
Over the last 2 years I know 12 people who have died from overdoses.
Grieving takes time. It takes effort and patience in order to develop tolerance to the pain of grief. And recovery takes time. It takes skills and support. Doing both together can be exponentially more difficult.
Add to that a sense of “nope, I don’t do funerals; I don’t do grief.” If you know that grief can increase someone’s risk of relapse or addiction, it’s important to grieve, right?
And how exactly do you do that? As a friend or family member or, as a clinician? That’s what this blog is going to be exploring. We’re going to be looking at grief and how it is affected by addiction as well as how addiction is affected by grief — among other things that might make grieving harder.
- Masferrer, L., Garre-Olmo, J. & Caparrós, B. (2017) Is complicated grief a risk factor for substance use? A comparison of substance-users and normative grievers. Addiction Research & Theory. Vol. 25 No. 5 361-367
- Mercer, D.L. & Evan, J.M. (2006) The impact of multiple losses on the grieving process: An exploratory study. Journal of Loss and Trauma 11:219-227