Unresolved Grief and Addiction Treatment

Losing someone you love is perhaps the most painful of human experiences. The grieving process is at once universal and deeply personal, as we all must find expressions of grief that feel right for us and allow us to move through the mourning process to find healing and resolution. Sometimes, however, healing and resolution don’t come, and you are left with unresolved grief that can deeply impact your psychological well-being and leave you vulnerable to drug addiction as you seek to quell your distress.

Incomplete and Unending Grief

The grieving process is an essential part of coping with the death of a loved one. While the exact shape of that process looks different for everyone, experts believe grieving itself is fundamental to regaining emotional stability following a significant loss, while simultaneously giving us a way of honoring our loved one. In most cases, grief is a necessary but temporary state. But for some, grief doesn’t end, but endures and even strengthens with time, leaving you in a constant state of mourning from which you can see no way out. Without resolution to  your grief, you may experience profound emotional distress, functional loss, and a pervading sense of hopelessness that lasts for years.

Unresolved grief, also called complicated bereavement, can occur for anyone who has experienced a loss, but is particularly likely if you feel guilt or shame about your loved one’s death, if you lost them unexpectedly or violently, or if you were not able to freely express your grief following their death. If you have lost a loved one to suicide or a drug overdose, for example, you may be less likely to acknowledge, process, and mourn their death in a healthy and productive way. In other cases, experiencing a loss that goes unrecognized by the larger world, such as a miscarriage, can also complicate the grieving process and leave you unable to move forward.

Symptoms of Unresolved Grief

People who experience unresolved grief may exhibit a range of symptoms that may vary in severity over time and from person to person, including:

  • Overwhelming sorrow
  • Intense longing for your loved one
  • Constant thoughts of your loved one
  • An inability or unwillingness to accept your loss
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Feelings of anger, guilt, or resentment
  • Emotional numbness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Avoiding people, places, and activities that remind you of your loved one
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships and trusting people
  • Inability to focus on things other than your grief
  • Feeling that life has no purpose or meaning

While some people with unresolved grief can be overtly seen to be mourning, others act as if everything is normal and nothing has changed. Inside, however, they are experiencing extreme distress that does not abate with time.

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Unresolved Grief and Addiction

The pain of unresolved grief can be devastating, and you may feel desperate to find relief from the unrelenting burden. Often, people experiencing unresolved grief seek reprieve from their distress in drugs, self-medicating to escape overwhelming sorrow. This relief, however, is only temporary, and substance use ultimately only prolongs your suffering by preventing you from processing your grief in a healthy and productive way.  Additionally, substance use itself can compound emotional suffering, increase isolation, and cause further psychological dysfunction that drives you deeper into despair.

Unfortunately, people with unresolved grief may be particularly prone to addiction, not only because grieving makes you more likely to use drugs in the first place, but because you often feel a sense of hopelessness and disregard for your own well-being. Even if you recognize that you are hurting yourself, you may not care. As such, you may delay seeking treatment and not recognize the need for help until the consequences become too great to ignore.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

If you are struggling with unresolved grief and addiction, dual diagnosis treatment that addresses the full scope of your needs is critical to helping you find freedom from substance abuse and re-establish psychological wellness. Treating only one component of your suffering is unlikely to provide sustainable healing, and leaves you vulnerable to relapse, preventing you from moving forward and ultimately deepening your suffering.

To ensure that the care you receive is effective and meaningful, it must be tailored to your unique needs. A personalized, comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment plan that draws on the best therapeutic modalities gives you multiple pathways toward healing that engage your mind, body, and spirit. Treatment may include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Experiential Therapy
  • Holistic Therapies
  • 12-step support groups

Additionally, pharmacological treatments may be used to address specific symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.

Dual diagnosis treatment provides a supportive space in which you can begin to explore the relationship between your grief and your substance use, while identifying and removing barriers to healing. With the guidance of compassionate clinicians and peers, you can find ways to honor your loss and find expressions for your grief that will allow you to move beyond mourning and toward a brighter, more fulfilling future.

Simultaneously, you will learn how to cope with distressing emotions without self-medicating and break free from your addictive drive to establish emotional and behavioral equilibrium. By engaging in a truly transformative therapeutic process, you can develop the internal resources you need to nurture both yourself and your relationships, and create a strong foundation for wellness that you can carry with you throughout your life. For those who need continuing support to build on the gains made in treatment, continuing care programs give you ongoing access to both clinical and peer supports to ensure that you remain healthy and sober.

If you would like more information about drug addiction and unresolved grief, or have any questions about dual diagnosis treatment, we encourage you to contact us at any time. We are always available to offer support and guidance to help you start the journey toward sustainable recovery.