How To Avoid Substance Abuse While Going Through Bereavement

Going through the loss of a loved one while in recovery can be incredibly difficult and may even trigger the urge to use drugs or alcohol again. While bereavement is certainly painful, there are steps you can take to prevent relapse while grieving.

Substance Abuse During Bereavement

Losing a loved one can be one of the most painful experiences a person faces in his or her lifetime. Experiencing this kind of loss while in recovery can be especially difficult and may trigger the urge to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. While using substances may feel like the only way to escape the pain of loss, there are several other ways to deal with emotions throughout a period of bereavement without relapsing.

Stages Of Grief

Most experts agree that there are several stages of grief that a person will go through after losing a loved one. Understanding these stages and knowing what to expect can help prepare an individual for the grieving process. It can also help someone better understand the emotions he or she is experiencing so that the person can cope in a more healthy way.

The following are the four stages of grief that most people experience during the bereavement process:

  • Denial — Many people begin the grief process by refusing to believe that a loved one has passed away. Denial is a very natural part of bereavement and is the way in which the mind copes with the intense emotional pain caused by loss.
  • Anger — During this stage of grief, individuals may feel irrationally angry about what happened or even experience anger towards the person who has died. A person may also place blame on him or herself or others.
  • Depression — This stage of grief is often when the reality of the situation sinks in and a person experiences loss and pain.
  • Acceptance — The final stage of bereavement is when a person accepts his or her new reality and begins to adjust to a life without the loved one who has passed. During the acceptance phase, individuals are still grieving; however, they are no longer fighting or denying the situation.

A person may experience grief for several weeks or even several months. In fact, grief that lasts six or more months is considered normal after the passing of a loved one. However, a person experiencing severe grief for longer than six months should seek mental health treatment.

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Symptoms Of Grief

There are many symptoms of grief a person may experience after losing a loved one. All of these symptoms are considered a normal part of the bereavement process. Understanding the symptoms of grief and knowing how to cope with them can help a person better understand his or her feelings and prevent relapse.

Symptoms of grief may include:

  • trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • changes in appetite
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • digestive issues
  • increased susceptibility to illness
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • depression
  • anger
  • extreme sadness
  • detachment
  • withdrawal from friends and family
  • anxiety
  • irritability

Grief is mentally and emotionally exhausting and can affect bodily functions such as in the immune system and digestive system. Dealing with grief in a healthy way is the best way to cope with these symptoms and ensure that they don’t last for an extended period of time.

Ways To Go Through Bereavement Without Relapsing

Experiencing grief is a normal part of life. However, bereavement can be especially difficult for individuals in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. A person in recovery may feel an intense urge to use substances as a way to cope with grief. Unfortunately, turning to drugs or alcohol to relieve symptoms of grief will only prolong the grieving process as well as undo all the work the person has done in recovery.

Luckily, it is possible to go through bereavement without abusing substances. The following are tipis for dealing with grief in a healthy way:

  • Continue Participating In Recovery Activities — While keeping up with a recovery-oriented lifestyle may be unappealing while grieving, it’s incredibly important for individuals who are in addiction recovery. Going to support groups and attending therapy sessions can help a person not only stay sober but cope with grief in a healthy and productive way.
  • Don’t Fight The Grieving Process — Some people may feel the urge to resist experiencing the emotions brought on by grief. Unfortunately, numbing the pain often comes at the cost of relapse. Giving oneself permission to grieve and accepting the feelings of bereavement can promote healing and help a person stay sober.
  • Limit Exposure To Triggering Situations — The loss of a loved one in itself can be an extremely triggering experience. Avoiding other situations, people, or places that act as a trigger is important during a period of bereavement to prevent further temptation to relapse.
  • Get Active — Exercising is often the last thing a person dealing with grief wants to do. However, getting active several times a week can boost a person’s mood and provide a healthy outlet for coping with anger and sadness.
  • Spend Time With Others — People dealing with grief may feel the urge to isolate themselves from others. However, this can worsen the emotions felt throughout the bereavement process and keep a person from healing. Spending time with others can help get one’s mind off of the loss of a loved one and encourage healing.
  • Seek Mental Health Treatment — If a person experiences significant grief for several months, seeking medical help may be necessary.

Making the decision to cope with grief in a healthy way is not always easy. Many people in recovery have relied on drugs or alcohol to deal with emotions for several years. As a result, a person’s first impulse may be to use substances to numb the pain of grief. However, by making a conscious effort to cope with bereavement in a positive and healing way, a person can avoid relapse and overcome grief.

Getting Help After A Relapse

While staying sober throughout the grieving process is certainly ideal, many people relapse after the loss of a loved one. When relapse occurs, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible to avoid worsening symptoms of grief and restarting the cycle of long-term addiction.

If you have experienced a relapse after losing a loved one, it’s important to know that you are not alone and that help is available. Getting back on track in your recovery is an important step to dealing with grief and recovering your sobriety. Addiction Campuses’ offers several treatment programs to help individuals reclaim their lives after relapse.

To learn more about how to avoid substance abuse while going through bereavement, contact an Addiction Campuses’ treatment specialist today.

JAMA - https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/205661

Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3286419/

SMART Recovery - https://www.smartrecovery.org/grief-loss-in-recovery/

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