Losing a loved one is perhaps the most difficult thing you could ever possibly imagine, particularly if the person you have lost is a spouse or parent. The negative emotions we collectively describe as bereavement compel us to act in ways that could only be described as uncharacteristic of our normal selves.
An absolute classic example is turning to substances as a way of helping us cope with negative emotion caused by bereavement. It’s not uncommon for those suffering from bereavement to describe drink and drugs as their ‘medication’. However, it’s entirely possible to develop an addiction that could put your own life at risk if you do not try to moderate or cease your use of substances following the death of a loved one.
Why we turn to substances following a bereavement
If you are experiencing bereavement, it’s easy to default to drug and alcohol use because these substances are simply easy to acquire and because you will block out negative emotions with very little work on your behalf. However, know that there are healthier and more effective alternatives that do not pose a risk to your health.
Healthier ways of coping with bereavement including attending therapy, volunteering, travelling, taking up a new hobby or engaging in exercise. All of these positive activities will help you form new memories and thus allow you to ‘move on’ following the death of a loved one.
The dangers of hiding your bereavement
Sometimes your bereavement will be obvious to the world around you. You may openly talk about your drinking or drug use to the world around you despite the disapproval this is met with. Alternatively, you may hide your bereavement and choose to drink or use drugs in private. This latter situation is unarguably more dangerous because it will be impossible for friends and loved ones to discourage you from engaging in these destructive manners.
It’s not uncommon to continue to experience bereavement even many years after the passing of a loved one. Bereavement is much more likely to persist when you keep your emotions bottled up and out of sight from the outside world. Your bereavement is typically manifested in the form of depression. You may also suffer from a range of symptoms such as insomnia, loss of appetite and anxiety.
The pain caused by missing a loved one may persist for many years if not treated. You may decide to block out this pain by drinking alcohol or using drugs. It’s important to seek out a referral to a psychiatrist if your bereavement does not appear to be reducing. It’s possible you could be diagnosed with complicated bereavement. This is a heightened and chronic state of mourning. If you suspect you could be suffering from complicated bereavement, we advise you to make an appointment with your local GP who should be able to refer you to a psychiatric specialist.
Although losing a loved one is deeply painful, it’s natural for this grief to reduce over time. However, for some, emotional healing does not occur meaning professional treatment is needed. Relying on drugs and alcohol to mask your grief is not the correct way to cope. Abusing substances will ultimately serve to aggravate symptoms of complicated bereavement, thus ensuring emotional healing does not take place.
When you are locked in a perpetual state of mourning, you are not able to move on with your life. Your entire existence may seem it is pre-occupied with thoughts relating to your deceased loved one. You may feel entirely overwhelmed by an intense longing and the accompanying feelings of numbness, sorrow and anger. You may feel lonely even if you are surrounded by your loved ones.
Bereavement when your loss is unexpected and sudden
Complicated bereavement is most likely to arise when the loss of a loved one was unexpected and sudden. You will undoubtedly feel robbed of your opportunity to say your final good-byes. When a loved one’s passing is expected, you are given the time to emotionally prepare for his or her passing. This is not the case when a loved one’s life is ended unexpectedly. You will have to process new and powerful negative emotions and it’s thus expected you will struggle to cope with life during this period.
Why complicated bereavement is a mental illness
Complicated bereavement is a mental illness. Loved ones may encourage you to ‘simply move on’ since these people are unaware of the nature of this mental illness. Unfortunately, it’s easy to under-estimate and trivialise mental illness, and stigma directed to those suffering from mental illness is very much still in existence. In this environment, it’s easy to equate mental illness with personal shortcomings. This ultimately means countless people are needlessly suffering from mental illness simply because they are unaware of its existence.
Overcoming complicated bereavement and addiction with rehab
The first step to overcoming complicated bereavement is to seek out treatment. If you have developed an addiction to alcohol or drugs because of this illness, you may require the assistance of a specialist residential rehabilitation clinic. This allows your treatment programme to focus on your complicated bereavement and addiction at the same time.
Treatment begins by allowing you to detox from drugs or alcohol without suffering from a range of discomforting withdrawal symptoms. Following your detox, you will benefit from therapies that help you overcome negative feelings such as self-blame and guilt.
It’s likely that you began to abuse drugs and alcohol to cope with the pain caused by your bereavement. However, the effects of drugs and alcohol only serve to complicate your bereavement and give rise to new mental health concerns. When drugs and alcohol are removed, it’s important to give you the cognitive skills that allow you to cope with bereavement safely and effectively. Treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy are utilised to allow you to achieve this aim.
The length of rehab treatment
You should expect to remain in a rehab clinic for around four-to-six weeks. Bereavement and an accompanying addiction present complex mental health challenges that require time in order to overcome. Rehab treatment clinics offer residential care. This means you will live within the treatment facility throughout this period. Once your residential rehab programme is completed, you will return home. You will return to the rehab clinic in order to benefit from aftercare therapy.
Contact Us Today for Help
To learn more about treatment options in your local area, contact our free helpline today on 0800 088 66 86. You may also browse our rehab treatment directory to locate a treatment facility in your local area. We refer our clients to both outpatient and residential clinics throughout the United Kingdom.
Keith stopped using drugs and drinking alcohol more than 10 years ago. He now spends a lot of time writing and editing content for this website. His mission is to assist people who are also looking to embrace addiction recovery. Keith believes a key way to accomplish this goal is through his writing.