Feelings of grief are sometimes overwhelming and can sometimes last for days, weeks, months, or even years. Grief is an emotional response to life events like relationship breakups or the death of a loved one. The intensity of grief can often cause other emotions to rise, such as anger, frustration, anxiety, and depression.
Humans naturally avoid painful situations, and all of us will deal with grief in our own way. Some will move across the country, change employment, or cry. Some people may retreat into themselves and avoid social contact, while others will lash out at anybody who dares get too close.
And then there are the people who will turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the intense pain of grief, which can lead to addiction. Grief can lead to substance use problems in several ways; here are some of the most common.
4 Ways Grief Can Lead to Addiction
Burying the Grief
There are few emotions as intense or as long-lasting as grief. It takes emphatic denial to curb its severe pain, and many people will consciously or unconsciously bury it deep. Buried grief is still there and should be confronted in the light of day if there is any hope of healing. Many people feel they need the influence of drugs or alcohol to deal with or bury powerful emotions like grief. However, using substances to cope with long-lasting grief can eventually lead to dependence and addiction.
Drugs and Alcohol Create More Negative Emotions
Drugs and alcohol are stop-gap measures to prevent you from feeling the pain of grief. However, their effect is short-lived, and the intense feelings will eventually resurface. Substances work to numb the emotional pain, but only for a short time, and it’s never worth the cost.
There are negative consequences for drug and alcohol abuse. Drinking too much or turning to drugs can lead to other emotional challenges like depression, stress, guilt, anxiety, and shame. Long term overuse will likely lead to serious health issues as well as psychological addiction.
Replacing People and Relationships with Substances
A loved one or close friend dying leaves a gaping hole in our lives. Many people will try to manage the loneliness by turning to drugs or alcohol, rather than learn to live without the presence of the recently deceased.
Naturally, none of us will plan on replacing someone with the bottle, but the feelings of emptiness and knowing that you will never hear them speak or laugh again can be a powerful motivator.
If the means to escape is readily available, it can be an easy trap to fall into, and one that resets every time the effects wear off.
Not Having the Right Coping Skills
Most of us have those moments in life when we feel like we are sorely in need of an instruction manual for this thing called life. We may turn to family members and friends to provide guidance during the challenges we face.
However, there is still the chance that some of us will miss the vital lessons that teach us healthy coping mechanisms required for dealing with grief. Even if they do have the coping skills, the smartest, most intelligent people can still fall prey to it when tragedy strikes unexpectedly. When it feels like too much, they may turn to alcohol or drugs to quell their pain, even though they are aware that the effects are temporary.
It’s no surprise that alcohol is as popular a coping mechanism as it is. We see ads and marketing slogans for alcoholic beverages everywhere. We are told to relax with alcohol, celebrate with a bottle of bubbly, offer a toast of congratulations with an alcoholic beverage, or chill out with a drink after a bad day.
Alcohol is readily available, and being surrounded by the endless parade of positive, uplifting images and messages about its ‘social benefits’ makes it an easy alternative to feeling the stabbing pain of grief. No wonder, then, that turning to the bottle to cope with grief can lead to life-altering substance abuse.
However, there is good news because you can cope with grief on your terms without drugs and alcohol. Your loss doesn’t have to end with your life spiraling out of control from addiction. Pain and loss are part of the human experience, and there’s no way to avoid them.
Your goal is to develop healthy coping mechanisms, so you don’t add another problem to your suffering. Remember, the numbing effects of drugs and alcohol are only temporary, but addiction can have a long-term negative impact on the physical and mental health of you and your family.
If you have recently experienced a life event that is causing you overwhelming grief, please don’t hesitate to contact Counseling Arizona to learn how to deal with it without losing control of your life.
If you or a loved one are already struggling with drugs or alcohol, click here to learn more about Habits & Addictions.