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Some people have a higher risk of experiencing severe mental health symptoms after a significant life change, like the loss of a loved one. According to Frontiers in Psychology, “People with substance use disorder (SUD) are more vulnerable to complicated grieving symptoms following loss.” In addition, for many people, “[S]ubstance use is one of the responses used to cope with traumatic life events.” West Coast Recovery Centers offers evidence-based methods to help clients recover from grief and substance abuse. 

Grief and Substance Abuse

People experience grief after many types of losses. For example, some clients in recovery feel grief over the loss of routines and social groups related to substance abuse, while others may struggle with more traditional forms of grief, including: 

  • The death of a loved one 
  • Job loss 
  • Divorce or separation from a significant other 
  • Losing custody of a child 
  • Experiencing a natural disaster 

Grief is a complicated emotion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “People who are grieving may experience complex emotions like feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, anger or sadness, numbness, or confusion.” Withdrawal and early recovery from substance abuse may increase those feelings and make them more intrusive. Treatment programs help clients process their grief and move forward using healthy coping skills. 

The Impact of Unaddressed Grief and Loss

Some people may try to avoid their loss and grief by focusing instead on recovering physically from their addiction. However, untreated grief and loss often impact all areas of a person’s life and make it more difficult for people in recovery to effectively move forward with their lives. Leaving grief unaddressed also increases the risk of relapse after treatment. The best way to manage grief is by taking advantage of psychotherapy and other therapeutic tools during treatment for SUD. 

Unaddressed grief and loss may impact some people’s recovery by doing the following: 

  • Increasing overall stress 
  • Making it difficult for them to focus 
  • Causing feelings of ambivalence 
  • Reducing the effectiveness of treatment services

Clients experiencing a recent or profound loss benefit from collaborating with clinicians to find healthy ways to address the grief. If left untreated, grief and loss may cause additional mental health disorders and maladaptive behaviors. Recovery from substance abuse takes time, motivation, and a desire to change. Loss may cause people to feel uncertain about change, even if it ultimately leads to a healthier life. Addressing loss helps clients move forward in treatment and make healthier choices during long-term recovery. 

The Connections Between Grief and Substance Abuse

Grief and substance abuse often interconnect and impact how people process emotional events. According to Psychodynamic Psychiatry, “[P]athological-complicated grief and severe addictions share common risk factors of being associated with early adverse experiences, attachment disruptions and various forms of mental illness.” Individuals with SUD are more likely to experience complicated grief and more severe symptoms.

The possible connections between grief and SUD include: 

  • Substance abuse as a form of self-medication or maladaptive coping mechanism in response to grief
  • Prolonged grief may lead to mental health disorders, increasing the risk of substance abuse
  • Substance abuse may cause people to lose things in their lives they cherish

Many people going through a profound loss have difficulty maintaining a sense of identity and purpose. Some individuals turn to substance misuse as a way to form a new identity or avoid the emotional distress of their grief. The dedicated clinicians at West Coast Recovery Centers collaborate with clients to determine the best approach to overcoming grief-related mental health issues. Evidence-based therapy and other treatment services help clients form a healthy sense of identity and increase self-awareness. 

How Does Grief Resolution Impact Recovery From SUD?

Processing issues related to grief provides people with peace of mind and greater emotional control. However, finding a healthy resolution is not always easy and often takes significant time and effort. The loss of a loved one is especially difficult for most people to overcome. According to the previously mentioned article by Frontiers in Psychology, “[W]ishful thinking and social withdrawal were the strategies most strongly linked to [complicated grief] . . . in some cases after a loss of a significant person, grief response can involve a lack of acceptance of the death and lead to complications in bereavement.” 

People may use substances to enhance their wishful thinking and avoid facing the reality of what they have lost. Finding ways to resolve their grief helps people adopt healthier beliefs and patterns of behavior. Treatment programs use trauma-informed care and other services to address a client’s loss.

Individuals who successfully process their grief during treatment benefit from the following: 

  • Reduced stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Increased quality of life 
  • Less severe symptoms of SUD
  • Reduced risk of relapse 

Clients often engage more fully in treatment programs after fully processing and resolving their grief. Everyone heals differently. The care team works with clients to provide culturally sensitive personal support during periods of loss and mourning. 

Grief is overwhelming and emotionally destabilizing. If people leave grief unaddressed, it may contribute to relapse or the development of mental health disorders. Grief is also a risk factor for developing substance abuse. The best way to address co-occurring substance abuse and grief is through early intervention and treatment. People who have experienced a significant loss may have trouble coping and managing their mental health. Treatment programs for SUD address underlying mental health issues, including the side effects of complex grief. West Coast Recovery Centers helps clients by ensuring they have access to trauma-informed care and social support. To learn more about our programs and services, call us today at (760) 492-6509.

West Coast Recovery Centers ( 370135CP), Valid through July 31, 2025
Jackson House Visalia (540056AP), Valid through May 15, 2025
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