Grief can be an overwhelming feeling. It can last days, weeks, months, or even years. It’s a response to the death of a loved one, a relationship, or any other meaningful situation in your life. Because grief is so emotional and can cause anger, frustration, depression, and anxiety, it’s our natural reaction to want to avoid this pain. Humans are taught to avoid pain. Everyone deals with their grief differently. Some people move away or change jobs; others might cry. Some may be unable to express how they feel, while others lash out at those around them. Some people turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope. There are many ways grief can lead to addiction; here are a few.
1. Grief is hidden and never dealt with
Grief is an intense emotion. We experience it at our darkest moments. It can be extremely painful, and our denial of this pain can be strong. Consciously or unconsciously, we may hide our grief or push it away. Unfortunately, this doesn’t get rid of grief. Emotions are complex, and must be dealt with and healed. Untouched emotions and grief can cause us to use drugs and alcohol in order to forget and ignore. Using these substances can then become a crutch that turns into addiction.
2. Using drugs and alcohol can cause more negative feelings
While using drugs and alcohol can rob you of the current moment, it won’t take your pain away. Drugs and alcohol make us numb. We drink or use to forget, to get out of our minds of the moment, and for a short time it works. However, the payoff isn’t worth the cost. Drug and alcohol use has consequences. Alcohol is a depressant and can make us feel worse after we use it. It can create more negative feelings including depression, anxiety, stress, guilt, shame, and even health issues. A physical and psychological addiction can develop, all from using drugs and alcohol to escape grief.
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3. Replacing a person or a relationship with a substance
When someone close to us dies or we lose an important relationship, there is a possibility that we’ll try to replace that person or relationship. It might be too painful to try and learn to live without them and drugs and alcohol can easily become our replacement. “I’d never replace a loved one with booze,” you say? None of us plan on it happening this way, but it can, and it does. Feeling empty, knowing you will never see, speak to, or hear from someone you love ever again can be devastating. When the means to escape are there, you can easily become hooked on substances that allow you that momentarily relief. Finding solace in that relief via substances over and over again can create a dangerous relationship with drugs and alcohol. That’s exactly how addiction starts.
4. Lacking the proper coping skills
Many of us go through life feeling like we lack the instruction manual. Even if we have parents or other supportive adults to lead us through life, there’s a chance we might not learn the healthiest coping mechanisms. Many smart people who are successful in every area of their life, still might not have the tools to deal with the crushing pain of grief and loss. Or they might have the coping skills, but be unable use them when tragedy strikes. Alcohol is a popular coping mechanism in our society. We often see advertisements telling us to “relax” with a drink, or “cheers,” to a celebration, or even having a glass of wine after a bad day. When these suggestions surround us, it’s not surprising that alcohol and drugs can be used to cope with grief and lead to a life altering addiction.
The good news is, grief can be handled without using drugs and alcohol to cope. Addiction doesn’t have to be the end result of losing a loved one. Pain and loss are a normal part of life and there are healthy ways to deal with this pain. Alcohol and drugs only ever provide momentarily relief, but their risks are far greater.