Grief encompasses a person’s response to loss. Usually grief is thought of as a response to death, but people also grieve the loss of possessions, hopes that never materialized, or pretty much anything else that is lost – including an addictive behavior.
Grief can last anywhere from a few minutes for a minor loss, to years. If someone has mixed or negative emotions about who or what they lost, experiences a sudden or traumatic loss, or has multiple losses, grief can maintain its grip for longer and lead to problems like depression. Clinicians call this “complicated grief.” People who deal with both addiction and grief often notice that their using escalates after a major loss.
People might also notice that when they are using their feelings about the loss are completely numbed out, but when they stop those feelings begin to come back and can even become overwhelming. Clearly substances get in the way of processing grief and loss in a healthy way. So what does it take to grieve?
There are many ways to deal with grief from talking about loss, to going to support groups, to grief-focused talk therapy or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). All of these things have in common one thing: feeling your feelings. This is hard, and especially after spending months, years, or even decades avoiding those feelings. The first priority is always sobriety, since sobriety is essential for the rest to fall into place.
That being said, especially for complicated grief, a treatment program that can help address both addiction and grief will help to give some relief.
Kirsten Helgager, Psy.D.
AToN Center 888-535-1516