Processing grief about addiction is complicated. Addiction takes time to ravage a family, and grief is a common reaction to having a family member who misuses of drugs and/or alcohol. Substance use disorders (SUDs) affects the whole family, even those who don’t use.

Chaos and disruption affect daily life, and the fear of an overdose is a constant stressor. Some of the most common feelings are sadness and anger. Grief about addiction is processed in many ways, and grief recovery is varied. Here are some basic tips to help you and your family cope, no matter whether the user is an adult, teen, or child. Empowering family is the outcome of doing grief work.

Allow Yourself To Feel The Pain

Accepting that a loved one’s using is a grief process for everyone. The first step is looking honestly at the problem. Allowing painful feelings to exist is the next step. Don’t deny what’s happening. Let everyone process their own grief in their own time frame. Also, you may even set aside specific family time to discuss the problems. Talking about the effects upon the family and what you can do about it is a positive reaction.

Understand The Grief Process

Grief encompasses various feelings: anger, sadness, loss, confusion, rage, frustration, etc. All feelings are acceptable – feelings aren’t right or wrong – they just are. Grief is a healthy response to loss. some important losses are:

  1. Safety from an intoxicated, angry addict
  2. Support and love from a family member
  3. Family income or housing
  4. Childhood innocence with a child who is using
  5.  Cohesive family system.

While all feelings are acceptable, acting-out behaviors and chaos are not acceptable. An example is a teenager starts getting drunk when he sees his mother doing this. The teen justifies his own behavior. Or an older starts starts abusing his siblings just as his father does when he’s high.

Ask Others For Help

Since we know that “secrets keep us sick,” a good way to process the grief is to ask others for help. This may include:

  1. Asking for a listening ear from a friend
  2. Seeking religious/spiritual help from a spiritual leader
  3. Attending a grief support group.
  4. Seeking family counseling (even if the addict refuses counseling) Counseling can be a safe place to talk about what this addiction is doing to the family and finding more ways of coping.
  5. 12-step groups such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Ala-Teen or Codependency Anonymous are fantastic groups to seek help, speak your truth, and get support for the grief you are experiencing.

Take Care Of Yourself And Family Members

The family needs to both survive and thrive during this difficult time. This means to:

  1. Continue to do family activities
  2. Attend school activities
  3. Participate in church/temple/synagogue
  4. Make time to have fun. Because of the stress, it is even more valuable for family members to have leisure activities and fun times.
  5. Taking care of the basics: healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping.

These are ways to express grief in a healthy manner.

Shift Your Feelings And Behavior

 Grief,  while often devastating, can also be a motivator for change. If the family doesn’t make healthy changes, then the addict, whether an adult or a child, will continue to use and cause disruption in the family. By making healthy choices such as grieving, the family can move on. This doesn’t mean the grief is over, but that you can adapt to the grief, and the family situation. in healthy ways.

Getting Unstuck

Just, remember that feeling grief is a natural response to addictions. By working through your bereavement, you and the entire family can heal through the devastating impact of a loved one with untreated addiction. Grief is a process – it doesn’t happen in a day or a week – but it maneuvers around your life – and if you allow yourself to maneuver with it, you can heal through the grief. This is the empowerment of the family.

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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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