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Substance Abuse Grief Is It Different –

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Substance Abuse Grief Is It Different –

Substance Abuse Grief Is It Different –

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Is substance abuse grief different from other kinds of grief? Does grief differ if it’s the death of a child, a breakup of a romantic relationship, a child leaving home, a death of a pet, or the grief of a mental illness or substance use disorder. What we know is that grief is grief – no matter what the loss, grief just is. The pain may be more overwhelming for some losses (for how does one survive and eventually thrive after a child dies), but comparative pain is not helpful. How can you even compare what you go through with someone else as we all have different ways to feel our pain and sorrow?

How Loss from Substance Abuse Grief Is The Same

What we do know that there can be significant grief regarding a family system embroiled in a loved one’s substance use disorder. So while there are many commonalities of grief, there are also some differences in the processes.

What Is the Same About Grief From A Substance Use Loss

  • grief is grief is grief
  • some losses may be more difficult than others
  • we grieve in different ways (sadness, screaming, anger outbursts, doing activities, laughing, remembering, etc.)
  • grief is different for different age ranges
  • there are no five stages of grief – this is outdated information
  • some coping skills are different than others and work better than others – this may vary due to what is lost
  • there is no such thing as comparative pain (i.e, “My pain is so much worse than yours” – no one knows exactly how someone may be suffering)
  • many people may be affected by the loss
  • there is no right or wrong way to grieve as long as it’s healthy
  • people react differently to loss
  • we must balance the feelings of the grief with other aspects of our lives
  • we need to deal with each loss as it comes, otherwise, grief piles up and becomes overwhelming and unmanageable
  • we tend to learn to be more compassion and accepting when we suffer our own losses
  • time does not heal all wounds - it merely aids in adjusting to the loss 

What Is Different About A Loss From Substance Use

  • the response to the family’s loss regarding substance use may be disregarded as not being a true loss (i.e, “He’s just drinking so what’s the problem?”)
  • you may be blamed for the addict’s use ( you’re a bad spouse or mom) so how do your grieve if you’re the perceived problem
  • you may also be more likely to minimize your own grief as you think it’s not as important as other losses (comparative pain)
  • you may be so wrapped up in the children’s losses that you minimize your own
  • you may find it more difficult to find supports and resources to help you through your losses (i.e, there are many support groups for deaths but not for other losses)

As you can see, there are more commonalities than differences in the grief process. As you explore the differences, you can find that there is help. Grief is a natural process and in allowing yourself to feel the pain, sorrow, anger, joy, acceptance, calmness, rage, and all other feelings of bereavement, you can find ways.


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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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