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Grief and Loss: How They Can Lead to Addiction

Grief and Loss, and How They Can Lead to Addiction

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Grief is often associated with the death of a loved one or friend. But a person can also experience grief with the loss of a relationship, a meaningful situation in their life, or anything they have an attachment to. Grief can be an overwhelming and consuming feeling. For some people, it may only last a few days or weeks. For others, grief can last months or years.

Different Responses to Grief and Loss

Everyone experiences grief differently. Some people can become depressed, angry, frustrated, or anxious. Others may become withdrawn, absent-minded, or lash out at those around them. Some may not be able to express their feelings or be filled with guilt. And some people try to avoid the pain by turning to alcohol or drugs to cope.

The Effects of Grief on the Brain

When a person experiences grief, neurological changes occur in the brain’s prefrontal cortex and limbic system. The brain’s chemical neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine, are disrupted and lose their normal balance. These areas of the brain and neurotransmitters

play a critical role in emotional regulation, mood, happiness, stress regulation, learning, multi-tasking, memory, and organization. Drugs and alcohol affect many of the same chemical neurotransmitters. 

How Does Grief Lead to Addiction?

Grief is a painful, intense emotion. If you don’t have healthy ways of coping with your feelings or a strong support system in place, you may drink or use drugs to numb the pain. Once you find the relief a substance provides, you may want to feel it all the time. That is how addiction begins. In the long term, of course, using substances to avoid pain will make you feel worse, creating more negative feelings, health issues, and relationship issues. To heal, you must deal with your emotions.

The Five Stages of Grief

In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote, “On Death and Dying.” The book explains the five distinct stages of grief a person experiences after losing a loved one. Even though people grieve differently, she found commonalities in the order of feelings they experienced. The Kubler-Ross Model of Grief is now a widely known and accepted part of grief theory. 

  • Stage 1. Denial: Denial is a coping mechanism. It provides the person time to accept and process the news of the loss. 
  • Stage 2. Anger: Anger hides or masks emotions and pain. Sometimes the anger is aimed at others, including the person who died. It can even be directed at an inanimate object. It can also surface as resentment or bitterness. 
  • Stage 3. Bargaining: You try to bargain with your idea of God, offering to do something or change in some way in exchange for a release from pain. You may blame yourself for what happened. 
  • Stage 4. Depression: You are not hiding from your emotions during this stage of grief. You may want to be alone as you work through your loss. This stage is often overwhelming and, if prolonged, the depression may warrant professional treatment. 
  • Stage 5. Acceptance: This stage does not mean you have moved past your loss. It means you understand what the loss means in your life. You have accepted it. 

If You Need Help

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol or addiction alongside grief or a mental health disorder, help is available. Located in Mesa, Arizona, Canyon Vista Recovery Center has skilled professionals to help you take back control of your life. Using a combination of clinical, medical, psychiatric, and holistic approaches, our specialists will guide you as you acquire the skills you need to live a sober life. Contact us today.

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