Grief and loss can contribute to the development of substance use disorder (SUD) and co-occurring mental health issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Grief can happen in response to loss of life, as well as to drastic changes to daily routines and ways of life that usually bring us comfort and a feeling of stability.” Individuals who have a vital component of their life altered or taken away may have difficulty coping.
Addiction treatment centers like Lighthouse Recovery Texas can help individuals struggling with SUD by providing healthier coping mechanisms and a safe space for healing.
What Causes Feelings of Grief?
Loss can take many forms. The context and your personal beliefs will impact how it affects your life. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Cultural beliefs and traditions can influence how someone expresses grief and mourns.” Not everyone has the benefit of a support structure to rely on during the mourning process. An individual’s ability to cope with emotional distress plays a role in whether they choose to participate in maladaptive behaviors like substance misuse.
Some of the most common reasons people mourn include:
- Divorce or romantic breakup
- Loss of a career or unemployment
- Significant life changes like leaving their hometown
- Experiencing a trauma
- Severe medical conditions
- Loss of financial stability
The symptoms of grief can last for months or years if left untreated. Professional mental health care can reduce the long-term effects of grief and help people avoid unhealthy or dangerous coping behaviors.
How Can Grief Contribute to Addiction?
Addiction and grief share multiple possible connections and risk factors. The side effects of both can overlap and increase the severity of SUD. A few examples include:
- Self-medicating to cope with the symptoms of loss
- Substance misuse can directly cause the loss of certain things, such as financial stability
- Unrelated substance misuse can worsen the symptoms of loss
- Grief can exacerbate the symptoms of pre-existing SUD
- Substance misuse as a way to feel in control
Many people have messy and complicated relationships with grief and substance misuse. In most cases, they lack the tools to identify, process, and work through these issues in a healthy way. Professional addiction and mental health treatment can provide significant relief and help build essential life skills that decrease the effect of grief.
Why Do Some People Use Substances to Cope?
Loss is emotionally and sometimes physically painful. In many cases, reminders exist everywhere and can trigger emotional episodes. Individuals who don’t have the capacity to cope with that level of pain may resort to substance misuse as a way to temporarily dull or eliminate the feelings. In addition, most people have families that rely on them to function day-to-day, and grief can make that difficult. Individuals may self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to achieve personal, educational, or professional goals.
Some reasons people misuse substances to cope with grief include:
- Lack of a healthy support system
- Inability to process the loss
- No access to convenient mental health care
- Pre-existing mental health issues
Self-medicating with alcohol or drug misuse is dangerous and can cause a wide range of health issues. In addition, it doesn’t actually treat the symptoms of loss and instead only masks the pain.
Does Grief Increase Health Risks?
Mourning a major loss or life change affects how the brain processes information, increasing health risks for individuals with SUD. Symptoms of grief that last longer than a year may indicate a person has developed a clinical disorder. According to Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, “Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD) is a debilitating condition affecting between 7% and 10% of bereaved individuals.”
Individuals diagnosed with PGD have an increased risk of acute medical conditions, including heart disease, myocardial infarction, and cancer. In addition, their quality of life often decreases due to extreme emotional distress. The combined symptoms of SUD and PGD can affect a person’s health in multiple ways, depending on the circumstances.
How Can You Process Loss in a Healthy Way?
Substance misuse is a maladaptive coping technique that temporarily overrides the need to process grief and the emotions that come with it. During rehabilitation, you will have an opportunity to process your grief with the help of a dedicated care team. Your therapist and other members of your support system will provide essential resources that can help you do the following:
- Talk about your feelings
- Establish new routines and behaviors
- Acknowledge the loss and accept your emotions
- Create a ritual or memorial to honor the loss
- Attend a grief support group
The dedicated team at Lighthouse Recovery Texas understands the devastating sense of loss that can sometimes contribute to SUD. We collaborate with clients to ensure they receive the support and treatment they need to heal and recover from SUD and co-occurring conditions like PGD.
Everyone reacts to loss and grief differently, and how it affects them will vary depending on various factors. Sometimes, people misuse substances or self-medicate to cope with pain and emotional distress. However, substance misuse causes more harm in the long run and can lead to lasting physical or mental issues if left untreated. Addiction recovery programs and services provide a safe space where individuals can learn to process their grief and mourn in a healthy way. Lighthouse Recovery Texas offers high-quality rehabilitation and recovery services for individuals living in and around Dallas, TX. We can help you find healthier ways to cope. To learn more about our programs and the services we offer, contact us today at (214) 396-0259.