How To Cope With Grief & Loss In Recovery
The loss of a loved one can significantly raise your risk of relapse. To maintain your recovery, you must let yourself grieve your loss and cherish the good memories, practice self-care, and avoid common triggers. If you do relapse, seek treatment right away, and remember that relapse is a common part of recovery, especially during times of stress.
Recovering from alcohol or drug addiction (also called substance use disorder) takes a significant amount of strength.
The journey becomes even more difficult when you’re faced with a stressful life event, such as the loss of a loved one. To cope with the pain, many people start misusing drugs again.
Although it’s not easy, you can maintain your recovery as you navigate a life-changing loss. Here’s how.
How Grief & Loss Affect Addiction Recovery
During the addiction recovery process, you may experience a host of conflicting emotions, such as hope, fear, guilt, and relief. Your feelings get even harder to manage when you lose a loved one.
No matter how long you’ve been in recovery, grief can take a serious toll on your ability to stay sober.
You’ve probably heard that grief comes in stages. Not everyone experiences each stage. In addition, some people go back and forth between stages rather than navigating them in a linear manner. The most common stages of grief include:
- denial, which means you subconsciously pretend the loss didn’t happen to lessen the pain
- anger, which means you express your pain by becoming angry at yourself or others
- bargaining, which means you search for ways you could have prevented the loss, often while using “what if” or “if only” statements
- depression, which means you experience intense sadness as you face the reality of the loss
- acceptance, which means you accept the loss and the impact it has had on your life
Besides acceptance, each of these stages could lead to a relapse. For example, during the denial stage, you might use drugs to distract yourself from reality. Many people also use drugs to numb anger and depression.
How To Cope With Grief & Loss While Managing Addiction Recovery
As you grieve your lost loved one, you can reduce your risk of relapse by taking these steps:
Let Yourself Grieve
Some people try to avoid the grieving process. In some cases, they might be in the denial stage. Other times, they may think it’s no longer appropriate to grieve because too much time has passed since the loss.
In reality, it’s always OK to grieve. You don’t have to worry about following a certain timeline or grieving in the “right” way. Grief can bring a variety of emotions, including shock, despair, frustration, guilt, and helplessness.
Whatever you feel, just let yourself feel it. Sometimes, the feelings will be intense and overwhelming. Other times, you’ll find them much more manageable.
When you let yourself experience all of the emotions that come with loss, you increase your ability to sit with pain. As a result, you become less likely to try and numb your pain with drugs.
Remember The Good Times
Although you must accept the pain of your loss, it’s just as important to cherish your memories of your loved one. For example, you could look through old photos and videos, listen to their favorite songs, or visit one of their favorite places.
Exploring these memories might make you sad, especially in the early days of grief. However, it will also help you celebrate your relationship and the impact it had on your life. This celebration is an essential part of the grieving process.
Eventually, when you’re reminded of your loved one, you won’t just feel pain. Instead, you’ll also appreciate the wonderful times you shared.
When dealing with grief, you need a strong support system, especially when you’re also in recovery. Share your feelings with family and friends, and don’t be afraid to ask for extra support on the harder days.
In addition, consider exploring your grief with a therapist. They can teach you important coping skills that help you manage your loss while avoiding relapse.
You can also find encouragement at grief support groups. Search for local groups online, or ask your therapist for a recommendation. Also, keep in mind that some addiction support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), offer special meetings for people experiencing grief.
While self-care is always important, it’s particularly vital during times of stress. As you cope with both grief and recovery, prioritize your basic needs.
For instance, although it might be challenging, try to get as much sleep as possible. You can improve your sleep quality by keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool. Also, avoid electronics, caffeine, and large meals before bedtime.
Along with sleep, you need to pay attention to your food intake. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and other nutritious foods.
If grief has sapped your appetite, talk to a therapist or doctor. They can give you tips to make eating easier. For example, they might recommend that you eat small snacks throughout the day instead of trying to tackle three large meals.
You should also aim to stay physically active. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which are hormones that improve your mood and decrease stress. Even a simple walk around the neighborhood can help you feel calmer.
Other ways to practice self-care as you grieve include:
- spending time with loved ones
- spending time in nature
- engaging in creative activities, such as drawing, playing an instrument, or writing
- listening to music, reading, or watching movies
Stick To Your Recovery Plan
In addition, you must stick to your addiction recovery plan. Attend your therapy appointments, and schedule more frequent sessions if needed. You may also want to visit your support group more often, especially when the loss is new.
If you feel like you’re about to relapse, contact your therapist, sponsor, or another trusted person right away.
Triggers are people, places, or other things that make you want to misuse drugs. While they vary from person to person, some of the most common triggers include:
- people you used to do drugs with
- bars, clubs, and other places associated with drug use
- alcohol-heavy parties or events
- advertisements for alcohol or other drugs
Since grief increases your risk of relapse, you should try to avoid your triggers as much as possible. Also, make a list of coping skills to use when you can’t avoid a trigger. Popular coping skills include breathing deeply, going for a walk, and contacting a supportive loved one. Your therapist can help you determine which coping skills work best for you.
How To Handle A Relapse
Even when you try your hardest to cope, you still face a risk of relapse. Keep in mind that relapsing is not a sign of failure. It’s just a common part of recovery, especially when you’re also facing grief or other stressors.
After a relapse, seek help at an addiction treatment program right away. These programs offer personalized, comprehensive treatments to help you get back on the road to recovery.
To learn more about addiction treatment options, please reach out to Ohio Recovery Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer medical detox, behavioral therapy, and other evidence-based services to help you or your loved one thrive.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — How much physical activity do adults need? https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Tips for Better Sleep https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/sleep_hygiene.html
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — Treatment and Recovery https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
- Psychodynamic Psychiatry — On Mourning and Recovery: Integrating Stages of Grief and Change Toward a Neuroscience-based Model of Attachment Adaptation in Addiction Treatment https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6383361/
- United States Department of Veterans Affairs — Grief Reactions, Duration, and Tasks of Mourning https://www.va.gov/WHOLEHEALTHLIBRARY/tools/grief-reactions-duration-and-tasks-of-mourning.asp