Grief and Addiction

When we think of grief, we tend to think of it as it relates to death. However grief can relate to many other situations in life as well. One of these situations is addictive behavior. Changing your life to abstain from an addictive behavior is something that may need to be grieved.

Many times with an addictive behavior, there are positive memories tied to it. With alcohol, drugs and gambling, there may be positive social interactions that are remembered. This person might remember having fun in situations that involved alcohol. When he no longer can have alcohol due to problems at work, legal problems, or problems in his relationship, he may feel that he can no longer can have fun either. A gambler may remember the boost of self-esteem that she felt when she had a “big win” while gambling. The alcohol addict may remember the confidence he felt when approaching a girl. A cocaine addict may remember how good sex was while using.

A common association that is made with someone who is defensive about addictive behavior is that this person is in denial. They tell themselves that they are fine when there is actually trouble in their lives. This is a coping mechanism, when this person begins to grieve losses associated with the behavior. People in this situation may have lost their jobs, but tell themselves that they do not have a problem. They may tell themselves that it is a blessing and that their job was a problem anyway, when they actually lost this job due to alcohol or a compulsive sexual behavior. Denial is a coping mechanism that is related to grieving loss and in these situations, the losses are caused by the addictive behavior.

People who have addictive behaviors might also experience depression and anger in these situations. “I give up, changing would be too much work.” Thoughts such as these can lead a person to be at a high risk for suicide. A person might also blame others around himself. He might have thoughts that even though he is making poor decisions, someone or something else is to blame. They might blame bad luck or they might blame a person. I have worked with many individuals who have received DUI charges, and they think that they are in this situation because the police officer was a “jerk”. Like any profession, not all police officers are nice, this is a reality of the world. However the likelihood that this person would have had problems with the police if they had not been drinking and driving is extremely low.

It is also common for people to experience a feeling of depression over lost friends or even the addicted behavior itself. Many times the idea of gambling, drinking, or using drugs can be exciting in and of itself. This is something to look forward to. Looking forward, not only to relieving anxious and depressed feelings, but also to socializing with others, increasing self-esteem, or participating in the entertainment associated with the behavior are common things that people become saddened about losing when they remain abstinent. This is why groups such as AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), SMART Recovery, SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous), and GA (Gamblers Anonymous) are important in these phases of an addiction for many. To have these supports provides some social outlets with people who understand what experiencing this grief is like.

Sadness can be a good sign for things to come in the future. The positive of these feelings is that the person is beginning to understand that there is a change that needs to take place. An addicted person may also feel guilty in this situation, which demonstrates a realization about their behaviors and demonstrates a level of taking responsibility as well. As long as this person does not become stuck in a depressive phase, this direction can be positive as well.

If you are reading this and you are experiencing a problem related to a behavior that you have difficulties controlling, then acceptance is an early key to moving past this and regaining control of your life. Whether or not you can control the behavior may not be as clear as you think. If you have more than one legal problem related to alcohol or drugs, you might not be able to control your behavior. I am not saying that this is true for everyone in this situation, but it is worth considering having someone else’s perspective in this situation. Asking others for feedback is a viable option for your to analyze this. Keep in mind, however, that people often do not recognize the magnitude of addictive problems. To be sure, having a professional evaluate this could be your best option. At this point, you are accepting the past decisions you have made, and taking responsibility for the behaviors that you displayed. Most importantly of all, because you are accepting of this, you are placing yourself in a situation that you are more likely to succeed in.