Loss is a universal human experience, and the grief that follows is profoundly, sometimes overwhelmingly, painful. Though grieving is a natural part of healing, some people may turn to potentially harmful coping mechanisms to deal with their emotions. One of the most concerning of these is the use of drugs or alcohol.
The link between grief and substance abuse is complex, with deep roots in the desire to escape pain. Why might grieving people rely on alcohol and drugs, and what are the potential perils they may face in doing so?
Why Grief Might Lead to Substance Use
Grief brings a cascade of complex emotions. Amid these tempestuous feelings, you may become desperate for anything to momentarily quell the storm within. Unfortunately, many people seek that solace in drugs or alcohol.
- Numbing the pain: Grief can be paralyzing. Drugs and alcohol provide a temporary escape – a fleeting reprieve from the onslaught of emotions. For a few moments, the weight of sadness, anger or guilt might feel a little lighter.
- Sleep aid: Insomnia is a common symptom of grief. Some might try alcohol or sedatives in hopes of catching a few restful hours, only to find themselves relying on these substances regularly.
- Social pressure: Grieving people might use alcohol or drugs to take their mind off their problems, especially in social situations where others are uncomfortable with expressions of raw emotion.
- Repressing painful memories: For some, the memories become too difficult to bear. Substances can temporarily pause the constant replay of traumatic moments.
The Vulnerability of the Grieving Mind
When grief is all-consuming, it can change your brain. Stress hormones flood your system, and your brain’s reward pathways become more responsive to the allure of quick relief provided by drugs or alcohol. This heightened sensitivity can create the ideal conditions for addiction to take hold.
People driven by grief who use addictive substances to cope may quickly find themselves caught in a tragic loop. Here’s how addiction can further complicate your life.
- Physical dependence: Over time, your body will become reliant on your substance of use, and you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit. This dependence can make it even more challenging to seek help or find alternative coping strategies.
- Increased emotional turmoil: While substances might offer short-lived relief, they also exacerbate feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety in the long run, adding another layer to the already complex grieving process.
- Isolation: SUD can lead to increased social withdrawal. As your ties to others become frayed, you may find yourself alone, further deepening your grief.
- Health complications: Prolonged substance use can lead to various health issues, including organ damage, respiratory issues and increased risk of accidents.
Join the Pillars Recovery Family
The close connection between grief and substance use highlights the importance of seeking appropriate support during trying times. At Pillars Recovery, we provide accredited, evidence-based care for people struggling with chemical dependency. We understand the challenges facing our clients because we have been there, too.
Grief is an overwhelming and complex emotion that can make drugs and alcohol seem appealing. Though relying on substances might seem like an easy escape, you deserve the genuine healing that can only come from confronting and understanding your feelings instead of sweeping them under the rug. Connect with us when you’re ready to learn more about our beautiful Southern California treatment facilities.