Does the use of substances hinder the grieving process?

Losing a loved one is incredibly painful. In an attempt to numb the intense emotions of grief, some people turn to drugs or alcohol. However, increased substance use during mourning often exacerbates and prolongs suffering. Understanding the risks of using substances to cope can help guide healthier choices.
By illume Editorial Team
Last updated: Oct 12, 2023
3 min read

Why People Use Drugs or Alcohol to Numb Grief

After a major loss like the death of a close family member or friend, feeling overwhelmed by devastation, anxiety, anger, guilt, or loneliness is normal. The extreme emotional pain leads some to use substances that provide temporary relief through numbing.
Drugs like prescription sedatives or opioids, marijuana, and illegal substances can mentally blunt the agony. Alcohol may help avoid unwanted thoughts or feelings. For a short period, substances distract from the reality of the loss. However, this escape lasts only until intoxication fades.

How Relying on Substances Hinders Healing

Though drugs or alcohol may temporarily dampen emotional anguish, consistent substance use often hinders adapting to loss in several ways:

  • Masking emotions – Getting high prevents directly facing feelings needed for acceptance.
  • Withdrawing from support – Isolating to use substances reduces interactions.
  • Numbing memories – Substances dull positive recollections crucial for healing.
  • Disrupting sleep – Drugs and alcohol undermine sleep vital to regulate mood.
  • Depleting motivation – Loss of drive delays reengaging with regular activities.
  • Creating guilt – Using feels like betraying the deceased’s memory.
  • Causing health issues – Substance misuse harms mental and physical wellbeing.
  • Forming dependence – Brain chemically relies on substances, altering functioning.
  • Increasing problems – Issues like strained relationships or job loss compound grief.

Far from facilitating the mourning process, abusing substances typically prolongs and worsens the pain of loss.

Healthier Coping Strategies for Managing Grief

If you notice yourself turning increasingly to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism while grieving, consider healthier strategies like:

  • Talking honestly with supportive family, friends, clergy, or a grief counselor
  • Joining a support group to share experiences with others facing similar loss
  • Writing about emotions and memories in a journal
  • Allowing yourself to fully feel and express grief through crying, screaming, exercise, art, or music
  • Eating nutritious meals, getting adequate sleep, and taking time for relaxation
  • Commemorating the deceased through memory rituals like creating a photo collage or scrapbook
  • Letting go guilt and regrets through mindfulness, meditation, or spiritual practices

Getting Professional Support for Addiction Concerns

Sometimes what begins as substance use to temporarily escape emotional anguish evolves into a more damaging addictive pattern.

Warning signs of developing substance abuse problems while grieving include:

  • Withdrawing from close relationships and social activities
  • Rapidly increasing tolerance and consumption
  • Inability to stop using despite negative consequences
  • Drunk or high throughout the day
  • Strong drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms when stopping
  • Legal issues or family concerns over substance use

Seeking help through counseling, therapy, support groups, or addiction treatment programs can help overcome unhealthy reliance. Consult a doctor to ensure safe medical detox if required. Prioritizing recovery strengthens ability to heal from loss.

Grieving Fully Honors Those We’ve Lost

Losing someone profoundly close leaves a painful void. Though incredibly difficult, allowing yourself to fully experience emotions during the mourning process enables cherished memories to eventually become sources of comfort. Using substances to artificially escape grief postpones resolving loss in a healthy way.
Trust that you have the inner resilience to navigate this challenging journey. Find compassionate understanding and support from others. The sorrow of a loved one’s passing cannot disappear quickly, but healing comes gradually through courageously embracing the breadth of grief. With time and care, you can integrate loss and reconnect to life.