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Grief And Addiction

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Grief is a natural reaction to loss, and nearly everyone will experience grief during their lifetime. However, this doesn’t make it any easier. Grief can be a devastating emotion that affects every aspect of a person’s life. Grief coupled with substance use or addiction can be devastating. Seeking dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring grief and substance addiction can help a person overcome both conditions and learn how to live a fulfilling and sober life.

What Is Grief?

Grief is a common emotion that many people go through. Grief can come as a result of a number of situations, including the loss of a loved one, divorce, perceived personal failures, and other forms of loss. The most common feelings associated with grief include sadness, hopelessness, and depression.

When a person experiences grief, he or she may cycle through a number of symptoms associated with this condition. Symptoms can be of a physical, social, or emotional nature and can impact various parts of an individual’s life.

Common symptoms of grief may include:

  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • depression
  • trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • changes in appetite
  • muscle aches
  • digestive problems
  • irritability
  • emotional numbness
  • detachment
  • withdrawal from friends and family
  • loss of pleasure in things once enjoyed
  • guilt

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Everyone will experience grief differently. However, most individuals will go through a number of stages of grief before overcoming this condition.

The Grieving Process

While each individual will ultimately handle grief differently than the next person, many people will experience phases of grief in a similar way. There are a number of different stages of grief that have been established, but the most well-known is the grieving process established by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

Kubler-Ross’s five-stage grieving model includes the following phases:

  • Denial — Many people deny the reality of loss when it first occurs.
  • Anger — Once the reality of the loss has set in, individuals may experience anger at the situation.
  • Bargaining — During this phase of grief, individuals may try to bargain or make a deal with their higher power in an attempt to reverse the loss.
  • Depression — Many individuals will experience a deep sense of sadness and depression while grieving a loss.
  • Acceptance — Once a person has gone through the first four stages of grief, he or she will likely come to accept the loss as reality and learn to live without what or who was lost.

While this model of grief is widely accepted, not everyone will experience all of these stages of grief or in the order listed above. Some people may experience these stages simultaneously or will only go through one or two of the phases of grief. However, most individuals will experience extreme sadness that closely resembles clinical depression for a period of time.

When Does Grief Become A Disorder?

While grief is often a natural part of life, some forms of grief can be serious and even dysfunctional. Each person will grieve for a different amount of time and experience different symptoms. However, when grief becomes severe enough or lasts longer than six months, it may be considered a disorder.

While there is some debate as to whether grief can be classified as a mental health condition, many professionals agree that some forms of grief may require psychotherapy or even pharmacological interventions. For example, when a person experiences “prolonged grief,” or grief that lasts longer than a year and negatively impacts a person’s life, he or she will likely benefit from psychological treatment.

Additionally, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has proposed a diagnostic psychological condition for “persistent complex bereavement disorder.” While this condition has not been approved within the psychiatric community, it indicates that some individuals may experience more severe grief than others and may require psychiatric intervention.

Experiencing grief in any form can be incredibly difficult and leave individuals more susceptible to a number of physical, mental, and emotional side effects. It can also increase a person’s risk of substance use and addiction.

Grief And Drug Or Alcohol Addiction

Experiencing grief for an extended period of time can significantly affect nearly every aspect of a person’s life. Complex or prolonged grief can be especially harmful and can leave people struggling with intense negative emotions for several months or even years. Long-term grief and despair can leave individuals vulnerable to mental health conditions as well as substance use and addiction.

People may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with the pain associated with grief. While abusing substances may provide temporary relief and even short periods of happiness, drug or alcohol use can quickly become a clutch for numbing emotions. Continued substance use can result in a dangerous cycle that can ultimately lead to addiction.

The more severe a person’s grief, the more at risk he or she is for substance use. In fact, individuals suffering from long-term grief may experience substance use and addiction at a similar rate as those who suffer from major depression. People with a major depressive disorder are up to five times more likely to also struggle with a substance use disorder than individuals without this condition.

When a person suffers from both chronic grief and substance use or addiction, this may be considered a dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorders, is when an individual has both a mental health condition and addiction. Co-occurring disorders can make recovery from both conditions difficult and will likely require specialized treatment.

Getting Help For Co-Occurring Grief And Addiction

If you or a loved one is suffering from both grief and a substance use disorder, it’s important to know that you are not alone and that help is available. Both of these conditions can be devastating and leave individuals feeling hopeless. However, seeking treatment can help someone reclaim his or her life from both grief and addiction. Vertava Health offers programs that are specifically catered to individuals dealing with co-occurring disorders like grief and substance addiction. All of our programs are customized to meet the needs of each patient.

To learn more about grief and addiction or to get more information on our dual diagnosis programs, contact an Vertava Health’ treatment specialist today.