grief when a loved one is addicted

The Grief of Living With an Addict

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

If you’re the family member or friend of someone with a substance use disorder—or if you yourself are struggling with drug addiction—you’re not alone.  According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), for example, more than 19 million American adults battled a substance use disorder in 2017.  That of course doesn’t include the many family members who battled addiction right along with them. Often, these loved ones experience significant grief as they watch the dissent of their loved one.

Drug Addiction Is Pervasive

Drug and alcohol addiction are widespread in the United States.  Consider these statistics, for example:

  • Almost 75% of American adults battling drug addiction also had an alcohol use disorder
  • Almost 40% of adults had an illicit drug use disorder in 2017
  • Also, in 2017 1 of every 8 adults had a drug and alcohol disorder at the same time
  • In 2017, almost 9 million Americans with a substance use disorder was also struggling with a mental health disorder

The Grief Associated With Drug Addiction

Most people who have a substance use disorder, or have a family member with one, already know about the stress, worry and financial hardship this problem tends to engender.  Less frequently, however, is the grief surrounding drug addiction confronted or discussed.

Typically, grief is a subject related to the death of someone we love.  As Drugrehab explains, however, you can experience grief in many circumstances other than death:

“While the original conclusions about grief focused on its relationship to death, that isn’t always the case in modern society. As mentioned previously, there are many reasons someone might experience grief. Knowing some of those reasons can help us identify relevant emotions, and better process them when we experience them. Grief can be caused by many things.”

Among the things (other than death) which can engender feelings of grief are the loss of a job, a child moving out on his own, a loved one committing a serious crime—and a loved one suffering from substance abuse.

The 5 Stages of  Addiction Grief

In 1969, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross introduced the notion that grief typically occurs in five successive stages.  Her analysis is useful in understanding what people experience as they suffer along with a loved one with drug addiction.  Here, then, are the 5 stages of grief as they apply to drug addiction:

Stage 1:  Denial

The first reaction to a loved one’s drug addiction is typically denial.  It’s easier to make excuses or come up with alternative theories than to admit that a child, parent, brother or sister has a substance abuse problem.  Addicts make denial easier by claiming that their problem is not out of control.

Stage 2:  Guilt

At some point, family members can no longer deny the problem.  It could be when their loved one is arrested, loses a job, is hospitalized or starts stealing money from the family.  At this point, it’s not unusual for family members to feel guilty that they didn’t do more to help their loved one, or to take the steps necessary to get them help.

Stage 3:  Anger

It’s a psychological truism:  anger is easier than grief.  The loved ones of those with substance use disorders often become angry as a way of distracting themselves from the sadness and guilt they feel.  Family members might, for example, become angry at the drug addict or begin fighting among themselves and blaming one another for the problem.

Stage 4:  Bargaining

When someone is dying, he or she—after denial, guilt and anger have passed—often begin bargaining with God (for example, “if you make me well, I promise to be a better person”).  In the same way, the family members of those with substance abuse disorders will bargain with the drug addict, attempting to persuade him or her to seek treatment or check into rehab, for example.  In other cases, just as when the circumstance involves imminent death, both the drug addict and his family members will bargain with God.

Stage 5:  Acceptance

It’s not always the case that the family members of someone with a substance abuse problem will reach the stage in which they accept the truth of the situation and begin seeking practical solutions.  Those who align themselves with support groups or actively search out effective therapies are more likely to achieve acceptance than those who don’t.  In the worst-case scenario, acceptance comes only after the person with an addiction problem dies.

Addiction Help in Fresno, California

Drug addiction tends to be a protracted problem.  Those suffering with substance abuse disorders too often find themselves in a seemingly endless cycle of addiction, rehabilitation and relapse.  Their family members experience their own version of this cycle, suffering right along with them.

Fortunately, there are trained professionals who can help break the cycle. First Steps Recovery in the Central Valley California is a licensed, qualified facility. If you have a substance abuse disorder or are a family member of someone who is addicted, take the first steps to lasting recovery and contact us today.

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