Grief And Substance Use

Most of us at one time or another have experienced grief. This emotion is encompassed by a profound sense of loss and sadness and can be incredibly difficult to process in safe ways. If we don’t already have good coping mechanisms in place, it’s possible for us to fall into negative and destructive patterns. While there’s not enough research to suggest a causality between grief and substance use, there is definitely a connection. According to the Nation Center for Biotechnology Information, people who struggle with addiction are more likely to develop maladaptive coping strategies to deal with complicated grief.

A majority of research looks to distinguish “regular” grief from complicated grief (CG), because CG is more easy to identify and research. Complicated grief is considered a “heightened” level of emotion whereby people experience an ongoing state of mourning. This in turn prevents people from moving on. Conversely, people who experience “regular” grief are eventually able to move on from whatever circumstance(s) induced their grief. Some of the most common symptoms of CG include:

  • Feeling purposeless
  • Avoiding things that remind someone of their loss
  • Compulsively thinking about one’s loss
  • Suicidal thoughts/ideation
  • Being unable to accept that your loss happened
  • Continuously seeking sensations or experiences that remind you of your loss


How To Best Cope With Grief

When it comes to dealing with grief, there’s no one size fits all approach. Similar to addiction, there’s evidenced based practices, and tips and tricks to help someone move forward. Below are some of the best recommendations we can make to help you overcome your grief.

  • Find a therapist who specializes in complicated grief
  • Surround yourself with people who bring you joy
  • Try to be kind to yourself and know it’s okay to “not hold everything together”
  • Engage in physical activity
  • Figure out what your needs are and take care of them
  • Try to embrace these difficult emotions
  • Try to get more sleep


If you or someone you love has relapsed due to grief, our team can help. Contact us today to learn more about our approach to grief and substance use.