Loss is one of the most challenging experiences we can endure. Whether it is the death of a loved one or separation from a romantic partner, grief can feel overwhelming. When we lose someone, the future we once envisioned is irrevocably changed because we no longer have that person by our side. This can be isolating and painful and bring up a variety of challenging emotions. It is essential to navigate loss carefully, especially if you are living with substance use disorder (SUD).

How Does Grief Occur?

You have most likely heard about stages of grief. This is the idea that grief brings forth a variety of experiences that range from disbelief and sadness to anger and even hope. Everyone experiences grief differently. The way one person processes it may look entirely different from the way another person copes with it. This can depend on whether the lost loved one passed away from a terminal condition that was anticipated, died suddenly, or is out of your life for another reason, like estrangement or divorce. It can also depend on the relationship you had with this person.

Generally, grief brings with it many physical and psychological symptoms. You might experience fatigue, gastrointestinal distress, or headaches. It might be hard to concentrate on work or remember things. You might find yourself angry, hopeless, or more irritable than usual. 


These symptoms can occur immediately or be delayed, and they might come in waves rather than being constant. If you know others struggling with the loss as well, you might find that you are dealing with the situation differently. This does not mean either one of you is doing anything wrong. You should not feel pressured to demonstrate your grief in a certain way or on a specific timeline.

Complicated Grief

Whether you are in recovery or in active addiction, grief can present unique challenges, making you more susceptible to developing complicated grief. Complicated grief is a term used to describe symptoms, timing, duration, or other factors that lead to a more intense grieving experience. For some people, substance abuse develops as a way to cope with stressful life events and negative emotions. In this way, a loss can also be a risk factor for developing or exacerbating an addiction. 

Being Proactive in Recovery

If you are in recovery from addiction, taking the appropriate steps to manage grief can help protect your sobriety. This might mean increasing the services you currently utilize or re-engaging in services if you had previously left. Even if you feel confident that you can handle this loss without going back to substances, it is best not to risk it. 

Being proactive is much better than needing to build yourself back up after a relapse. Anyone who experiences grief needs support. Working with a professional to process those emotions will help you stay on track with recovery in addition to processing the complicated emotions surrounding your loss.

Grief Related to Substance Abuse

Sometimes grief and loss can be directly related to substance abuse. For example, someone you know from treatment or in your recovery community might have died. This might have been a person who supported you during your recovery and someone whom you also supported in their own journey. 

Seeking support in this situation is important, especially if the person who passed away relapsed prior to their death. This scenario can bring up complicated emotions, as it clearly portrays the grave nature of addiction. Recovery is a process that might involve relapse. Confronting the reality of the dangers of relapse can be discouraging and frightening. Working with a mental health professional to work through these emotions can help you process the loss while reinforcing the coping skills that can keep you safe. 

Sometimes loss might be related to your own substance abuse. It is possible that you lost a critical relationship with someone because of your addiction. In addition to coping with that loss and what it means for your life going forward, you might also have to deal with feelings of guilt and anger toward yourself and your past actions. You might find it hard to forgive yourself for what happened. It can even lead you to worry about whether you will be able to find another relationship like that. 

Seeking Support

If you are working toward recovery, you know that living with active substance abuse is not sustainable for yourself or the people around you. This can lead to ruptures in relationships no matter how much effort you put into preserving them. 

While taking accountability for your actions and making amends when possible are vital steps in recovery, so is forgiving yourself. Addiction is a disease that does not define you. Taking deliberate steps toward bettering your life is the best way to care for yourself and the important people in your life. 

The intensity of grief can make it challenging to get through the day. It can cause you to feel depressed, angry, and distant from yourself and others. Without proper coping strategies, overcoming the loss of a loved one can feel insurmountable. Enduring this pain while also working toward addiction recovery can add another layer of difficulty. Fortunately, this is not an impossible task, and Family-Centered Services is here to help you and your family through this difficult time. Our services include individual and family therapy, a Family Recovery Program, and case management, all intended to help you stay focused on your recovery during this period. Call us at (509) 991-5822 to learn more.