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Grief, Loss, and Alcohol Addiction

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For the majority of individuals, engaging in moderate alcohol use isn’t necessarily harmful. However, there are about 18 million American adults that currently have an alcohol use disorder, also known as an AUD. Unfortunately, the combination of alcohol and grief occurs all too often. 

AUD can range from a mild addiction to severe, depending on the person’s symptoms. When there is a severe alcohol use disorder, it can be considered alcohol dependence or alcoholism. Drug addiction, which is also known as substance use disorder, is a disease that affects an individual’s behavior and brain which can lead to an inability to control the use of illegal or legal medications or drugs. 

Drug addiction typically begins with the experimental use of a recreational drug in various social situations and for some individuals, the drug use becomes more persistent. The overall risk of drug addiction and how quickly a person develops addiction varies by drug. Many individuals turn to alcohol when an unexpected turn of events transpire such as grief. 

The Relationship Between Alcohol and Grief

Alcohol and grief have a recurrent and tragic relationship. When a loved one passes away, the overall outcome can be devastating. The parents, children, and partners are all deeply influenced by the loss of somebody that they love. 

Grief is a strong response to a loss of a loved one and it can often be super overwhelming, especially when the specific loss was a fundamental part of somebody else’s life. Though alcohol is extremely present in our modern world, it can certainly be a problem later on. Liquor is generally found in liquor stores, bars, and parties, constantly surrounding many individuals. 

How Does Grief Lead to Alcohol Abuse?

Individuals come to terms with experiencing a great loss in various ways. In a few cases, this can be through alcohol. Some individuals engage in alcohol recreationally and drink modestly for years without ever developing an issue. 

The problem begins when a person starts drinking for a specific reason. Whether it’s because of depression, anger, or grief, it’s easier to fall down the hole of alcohol abuse. Alcohol and grief have an extremely strong relationship that way.

For many individuals, it’s comfortable and familiar to drink directly after a negative feeling to cope or take the edge off. It’s also easy to be able to rationalize that drinking after experiencing a hard day is relaxing and even sleep-inducing. However, once a person engages in alcohol use using this approach, it’s more likely to form a habit, and therefore grief and addiction. 

The habit has the potential of starting innocent enough. For example, who would take the drink away from a person who’s in mourning? The problem is the reliance on receiving the same effect from alcohol, the tolerance that can be built, and the dependence. 

grief and addictionAlcohol and Grief as a Coping Mechanism

Undergoing the loss of a loved one is unquestionably one of the most unsettling and excruciating experiences a person can witness. It’s extremely common to face several different emotions, often at one time, whether it’s anger to denial then sadness and strong despair. Every person will take on the grieving process in a different manner, and some ways aren’t the healthiest. 

Numerous individuals turn to alcohol in a desperate attempt to numb the pain, sadness, and grief that is encompassing them. It generally follows after the loss of a spouse, a child, or a parent. Unfortunately, when a person self-medicates the emotional pain, it will often lead to alcohol addiction. This is where grief and addiction hold a relationship. 

Grief and substance abuse are strongly not suggested. The impact of grief is so severe on a person’s overall mental health, it has the power to take a strong toll on them, even the most resilient and seemingly strong individuals. During the process of grieving, it’s pivotal to not only experience but express all of the emotions so that healing can occur. 

However, many individuals find themselves in a tight place as they experience grief that lasts longer than normal, which is called unresolved grief. This grief is so powerful and challenging, if not impossible for the individual to manage their daily tasks adequately. 

The Connection Between Unresolved Grief and Alcohol Use

Unresolved grief occurs when:

  • The person loses a loved one through an unanticipated or brutal death 
  • Overwhelming guilt for the loss stirs up inside of the person 
  • The person considers the death of their loved one unfair 

Grief also has the power to trigger clinical depression, which can increase suicidal actions or thoughts. There are numerous times when unfinished depression and grief can make a person more vulnerable to the full development of a SUD or substance use disorder. Grief and substance use or alcohol and grief are never gainful because the temporary escape from feelings is always short-lived. 

It’s important to note that there isn’t an available form of self-medicating with alcohol or substances that can effectively erase the severe pain of loss. Alcohol acts as a depressant in an individual’s body, increasing negative emotions, such as sadness or shame. The use of this substance can certainly impair every part of a person’s daily life. This can range from the ability to hold down a job to the quality of their relationships.

The other factors that indicate that a person might turn to alcohol after facing a loss are:

  • A history of depression
  • Previous addiction 
  • History of anxiety 

Alcohol Perpetuating Grief

Even though mixing alcohol and grief can seem to be an easy relief, the hard truth is alcohol can perpetuate your grief. The reason this occurs is that as previously mentioned, alcohol acts as a depressant in the person’s body, slowing down the brain and central nervous system. This entire process makes it more challenging for individuals to process their emotions and it can end up leaving their feelings unresolved such as the unresolved grief mentioned. 

No matter how terrible grief might seem, it does pass. It is okay to experience all that you are feeling. However, when you choose to utilize alcohol as a band-aid or crutch, it can worsen things. Remember, alcohol is not a medication and it certainly isn’t seen as a therapeutic approach. Alcohol is a drug. 

It may provide relief, but that relief is only temporary for a deeper matter at hand. Even if alcohol seems to contribute comfort, it’s only short-term, and utilizing it as a personal crutch will only create long-lasting and deeper problems. 

New Directions for Women Can Help Women Who Struggle With Grief and Addiction 

One of the main ways to address alcohol addiction healthily from the relationship of grief and addiction is through treatment. Without fully coming to terms with the main reason for alcoholism, it will only continue to be a harder struggle later down the road. It’s imperative to find a treatment center that will understand your grief and substance abuse. 

When individuals struggle with grief and substance abuse, it’s ideal to receive treatment for both concerns. After detox is completed, the real set of treatment measures begins. We understand that grief plays an integral role in a person’s recovery process. 

If grief isn’t properly addressed, relapse is common. Our professional team will be able to assist you with all the complicated feelings you are experiencing such as sadness, anger, or frustration. Grief support is also a pivotal part, such as support groups. 

When an individual first faces loss, there is usually a bombardment of support from friends and family. Over time, however, the support drops gradually off, leaving the grieving individual to undergo isolation. Don’t fret, the grief support groups offer guidance, resources, and support.

It is always a great comfort to know that you’re not alone and other people are experiencing similar situations. Family counseling is also ideal because grief and addiction impact the entire family dynamics. If you or a loved one has recently struggled with tragedy, and need assistance with alcoholism, contact us today.

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