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The Effects of Grief and Loss on Substance Abuse

One of the most painful experiences in life is losing someone. It’s hard to face the loss of that person in your life and it’s also hard to face the many feelings that arise as a result their loss – how do you continue? Life can be incredibly hard to live after the loss of someone you love. For this reason, there is a strong connection between grief and substance use. When someone feels the pain of loss in their life, they might turn to drugs and alcohol as a means to take away the pain.

In fact, one of the primary reasons men and women turn to substance use is because they want to escape pain – whether that’s emotional or physical pain. And this is true when experiencing the loss of someone in life. Frequently, grieving is a very emotional time. It includes feelings of depression, anger, and sadness. Because of the intense emotions of grieving, alcohol and drugs are often used as a means to cope with the intensity of the loss. At the same time, some people might find a comfort in drugs in alcohol, that substances are there for them when they need it. They might feel the need to punish themselves and use substances as a means to do that. They might get themselves drunk or high because they feel responsible or they feel guilt about something they’ve done.

It’s common for men to use drugs and alcohol as a means to cope more so than women. Because men tend to have a harder time expressing their emotions and might feel that crying is a weakness, they might use substances to cover their need to be emotional. Drugs and alcohol can be used as a means to numb themselves emotionally so that they don’t appear to lose control. In fact, the need to appear strong might be so intense in some people that using drugs and alcohol is the only way they can do it.

Of course, there are dangers to using substances during an intensely emotional time, such as grieving. A person might become reckless, careless, and make risky decisions that put them and others in danger. A person might drink excessively, use harsher drugs, share needles, and use more than one type of drug. It’s common too that those who are grieving might spend more time alone, drinking and using drugs in isolation. Of course, this can be dangerous too if someone passes out or hurts themselves while using substances.

Grieving can be a long process, depending upon the kind of relationship one had with the deceased. Experts agree that there is a process of grieving until someone finally comes to accept the loss. However, in the meantime, it’s common to experience denial, anger, and depression. A person who is grieving can work with a therapist or psychologist in order to facilitate the healing process and prevent substance use during this time.

If you or someone you know is experiencing the loss of a loved one, contact a mental health provider. A professional can assist you or a friend in staying sober, safe, and healthy during this time of grieving.

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