toll free: 844.955.3042
local tel: 561.464.6505
fax: 561.450.6637

RECO Intensive
140 NE 4th Avenue
Delray Beach, FL 33483

Death and Addiction: How To Cope

The death of a friend or loved one can be tragic and change the whole trajectory of your life. Death is scary, and the feeling of loss is entirely valid. However, you must process your pain in healthy ways rather than turning to substances.

Differences in Grief Processing

Everyone grieves differently, and there is no script to follow. There are a variety of factors that can influence how a person grieves.

  • Coping skills: This is the practice of experiencing grief and how we manage it. When a person has coping skills from previous experiences, they can lean on those skills to help them grieve.
  • Psychiatric history: Mental health and coping experience can impact how someone reacts to death.
  • Sociocultural structure in which grieving occurs: This refers to the culture or attitude of the society the griever lives in. For example, some places in America adopt a “tougher” attitude, where the griever is expected to “get over it and move on.” If the griever’s primary support system is their friends at a bar, it is more likely that the griever will drink to cope with death.
  • Socioeconomic status: The wealth or socioeconomic class of the griever can also impact how they grieve.
  • Access to support: Some grievers may live far away from support or not have a support system at all. Access to supportive individuals will generally affect how a person grieves, especially if there is substance abuse involved.
  • The feeling of an unfinished relationship: A large part of loss can be the feeling that a relationship was not fulfilled in its potential — for example, not having a chance to say “goodbye,” “I’m sorry,” or “I love you.”
  • The feeling of loss for an incomplete life: This is often applicable for grieving the loss of a younger person whose life was cut short.
  • Relationship to the loss: This can mean a lot of things. It’s okay to feel uncharacteristically sad about the loss of someone you weren’t necessarily close to. Perhaps they were similar to you, and you’re thinking about your morality and relationships. If you were close to someone who has passed, you may feel numb or eventually have an emotional shutdown due to delayed grief. This is normal, and your grief may take months to settle in. What’s most important is that the grief is processed instead of buried.

Identifying these differences in grief processing for yourself and the loss of your loved one can help determine how you move forward.

How the Brain Deals With Loss In Recovery

In 2017, Psychodynamic Psychiatry published a study about mourning and the study of grief in recovery. The findings were unique in that there was considerable overlap in the process of grieving and the process of substance abuse. Since addiction is a neurobiological disease, it inhibits our nucleus accumbens (NAC), which is essentially the decision-making part of the brain. The NAC is also the part that focuses on survival and fulfilling the actions needed to survive. The NAC is rewired during the cycle of addiction to need an addictive substance to survive. Similarly, in grief, the NAC is sometimes stunted (depending on the coping criteria and other factors described above), making those survival instincts dull and those decisions harder to fulfill.

Don’t Turn to Substances

Substance abuse may seem like a way to find relief from grief, but it can also cause extreme grief down the road. Instead, use these healthier methods to cope with grief: 

  • Get Grief Therapy

In extreme grief or bereavement cases, grief therapy is the most focused way to help ease the pain. Since grief therapy is highly specialized, it can give the griever strategies for mental health improvement that work especially for them and can be adopted into their daily routine. If you don’t have the option for grief therapy, other generalized therapies can help as well. Getting support from any mental health professional might be helpful during times of grief.

  • Find Support

Healthy relationships are essential when living through grief or trauma. A personal support system can help you through. If you’re looking to avoid substance abuse, try leaning on a support system that does not facilitate that behavior. It can be hard to let go, but healthy support is a must.

  • Adapt and Honor Your Loved One

Adapting to everyday life after losing someone you love can be extremely hard and painful. It’s challenging to learn how to live without a loved one. It can help your healing to have a way to honor the person, and in that honor, help their memory live on. Many do this with gravestones, celebrations of life, picture walls,  gardens,  scholarships, or even an area of your home dedicated to their things. Others find it easier to adapt to no reminders — donating or selling your loved one’s possessions or packing them away may be less painful than seeing them every day. It can also help turn to spiritual leaders and develop an appreciation for your loved one, along with the future possibility of seeing them again. However, you choose to adapt and honor your loved one, do it for you. This is your life now.

  • Take Your Time Honestly

Though some people feel the need to stay busy during times of grief, it’s okay to take your time. Slow down and process with your support system. Try to avoid addictive substances as an avenue to express your feelings. Instead, be open and honest with your support group about what you’re thinking and feeling. Grief is a natural process, and it can be overwhelming. Be true to yourself, and seek help if you need it.

Death can be extremely difficult to process for those in recovery. If you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one and you’re finding it really hard to stay sober, don’t go through it alone. Find support and help while you process your pain. At RECO Intensive, we understand that the pain of the death of a loved one is immeasurable. We can help you keep yourself safe and maintain your sobriety. At RECO Intensive, we offer individualized care to help meet your needs and your needs alone. With our experienced alumni and professional staff, we can enroll you in group therapy to help you process your loss, individual therapy to meet your specific needs, or a combination of both. Mental health is a primary focus at RECO Intensive, and we want to help you through your grief and your recovery. Call RECO Intensive at (561) 464-6533 today. Let’s get back to a brighter future.

Recent Articles

Discover a better life and call our recovery helpline today.