BEE HEARD: Grief and addiction

Death and loss are components of life that every person will deal with at some point in their lives. The term grief is defined as “the response to loss” of “deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death” (Oxford Language, 2022).  

What many don’t realize is that people also grieve when they give up drugs, alcohol, and nicotine. In some ways it is like the end of a relationship or marriage. Symptoms of this grief are like what is called “post-acute withdrawal symptoms,” better known as “PAWS.”  PAWS represents the psychological withdrawal that comes on after physical withdrawal ends, such as shaking and vomiting. 

Like PAWS, symptoms of grief include depression and anger. The pioneer of the study of grief and loss, Elizabeth Kubler Ross, identified that there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance (Stanaway, 2020). With addiction, denial tends to be a tool most people will use; statements like “I don’t have a problem” or “I will just have one drink.” Grief and denial within addiction can look more like “I only had a problem with meth, I did not have a problem with alcohol.” 

Many addicts become angry when faced with sobriety. Getting sober can be scary, and anger is born out of fear. Bargaining can follow, making statements to themselves like “I will stop for two weeks, then I will be ok.” Depression may follow, which is why it is vital in early recovery to find something to fill that void those drugs and alcohol once filled. Twelve Step meetings and individual or group counseling are great ways to start. Spiritual practices and physical exercise are two wonderful ways to get the brain to fire in a natural way instead of using substances.  

The final stage is acceptance. In order to move forward, one must accept that this is the way things are now. Grieving is a process, and acceptance does come in time. Another author does state that there is a sixth stage of grief, and that stage is meaning. Understanding the meaning behind life events also comes in time but cannot come before one has accepted what has happened and where they are at currently.  

For anyone who is struggling with substance abuse, grief and loss, or other mental health issues, there is help. Southern Ute Behavioral Health has services that include psychotherapy, trauma therapy, family therapy, group therapy, and substance abuse counseling. We also have Medication Assisted Treatment to help treat opioid use and alcohol use disorders. Please reach out if you or a loved one is struggling by calling 970-563-5700.  


Oxford Languages. (2022). 

Stanaway, C. (2020). The stages of grief: Accepting the unacceptable. Counseling Center. 

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