It’s common to want to drink or use drugs as a way to avoid the painful feelings of losing someone you love. Losing someone you love is hard; the heartache can be intense. Sometimes, picking up some alcohol at the store is the easier choice that day. But if you’re continuing to use alcohol or drugs as a means to cope with loss, it can become problematic. It’s easy for it to turn into an addiction.
For most people, addiction happens innocently. It only takes a couple drinks to realize – hey this feels good. And why not continue to use if it’s going to make me feel better. But the lure of drinking or using drugs only gets stronger until you’re thinking about drinking all the time, until the only thing you’re thinking about is drinking, or until drinking becomes the center of your life. So, although you might have started out drinking because it was painful to lose your father or mother or spouse, it can so easily become dangerous.
For this reason, it’s safer to find healthier coping tools to deal with grief.
Become familiar with the stages of grief and find out where you stand. The process of grieving is not linear. It’s a process that goes through various cycles. Yet, the understanding of grief can be helpful in knowing where you are in a process that is becoming better and better understood by grief experts. Up until recently, grief was incorporated into the treatment of other mental illnesses. However, in the 1970’s, grief counseling began to emerge. For instance, the book by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, titled Death and Dying in 1969 was significantly helpful for many people. She outlined five distinct stages to the grieving process based on her long-time work with her own clients. These stages form the acronym DABDA for easy recollection in their order. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Knowing this can help you identify where you are and what stages you may have to yet go through. At the same time, it’s important to know that you might weave in and out of the stages, returning to some even though you’ve already advanced to others stages.
Talk to others who are also grieving from the loss. When you have others with whom you can share the same feelings, you feel validated for feeling the way you do. You might also feel supported versus feeling isolated in the sadness, which is a common trigger to rely on substances. Sometimes, the pain gets too heavy and you might not know how to manage it. Yet, having friends or family who also experience the depth of grief you do can provide support, connection, and validation in your process.
Do something that honors the life of the person you lost. Light a candle for the person you lost as a way to facilitate grieving. Depending on where you are in the grieving process, this may or may not sound appealing. However, at other times, you may find it very helpful to spend some time honoring your loved one’s life. Doing so can facilitate the healing process; it might make the heaviness of the loss a bit lighter.
Make a list of what you can do to facilitate your own grieving process. Perhaps you need to read books about losing a spouse or what to do when you finally lose a parent. You might need to spend significant time alone. Or you may need to go on a long vacation, giving yourself time to relax and process the loss versus working right through the sadness. Lastly, you might decide to get a therapist as a way to help you work through the grieving process. Make a list for yourself that includes what you think you might need during this time.
Grieving isn’t easy, but if you can find the tools to support yourself through it, you can avoid using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, and in turn, avoid addiction. With the right amount of help you can make it through the grieving process without drinking or drug use.