Grief and Alcohol Addiction

Grief and Alcohol AddictionIt always hurts when a loved one dies. That much we can rely on. Beyond this universal expectation, the effects and experiences of grieving can be unpredictable.

Alcohol, with its legendary ability to “drown sorrows”, may be a tempting way to self-medicate during the grieving process. Sometimes casual use can lead to unanticipated abuse or even addiction. For the recovering alcoholic, grief can lead to a relapse back into drinking.

Grief Makes Drinking Easier

A time of grief creates an environment that makes it easier to quietly ramp up alcohol intake in several ways.

First, alcohol is simply an accepted part of grieving for many people. Almost as common as the funeral is the wake. People traditionally share their grief and memories at a wake while also sharing a generous supply of alcohol.

Second, grieving individuals are granted patience and even some indulgence from those around them. Coming to work a little tipsy may ordinarily be considered a major offense. When someone is grieving the loss of a loved one, however, these kinds of problems may be, at least temporarily, tolerated. The conventional wisdom that “everyone grieves differently” may actually help to shelter an alcohol problem as it develops.

Third, grief in the family may cripple an individual’s entire support network. The very people who can ordinarily be counted on to help with an emotional crisis may have also been emotionally close to the person who died. Their own struggles may make them unavailable or unable to lend the kind of support they may have ordinarily been able to give.

Grief Can Lead to Relapse for Alcoholics in Recovery

Recovering alcoholics work hard to prepare for unexpected cues that might trigger a relapse. Grief, and the chaotic emotions that often come with it, can sometimes be more than an alcoholic can handle.

All of the aspects of grief that make it easier to develop a drinking problem also make it easier for a recovering alcoholic to relapse. But the urge to drink is strengthened by grief in even more ways for the alcoholic.

Alcoholics have learned that drinking alcohol gives them something they can count on in a changing world. They may have relied on their drinking to help them cope with changes they didn’t want to accept. Therefore, after the loss of a loved one, turning to alcohol may be a way for alcoholics to find some stable and familiar ground. Even after years of sober living, the comforting certainty of alcohol is never forgotten. Grief can overwhelm all efforts to replace alcohol’s comforts with positive coping strategies.

Getting Help for Alcohol Addiction

Grief is not a problem that has to be faced alone. Specially trained counselors can help people work through the feelings and stages of grief without relying on alcohol. Contacting a grief counselor early can help prevent one loss from tragically and unnecessarily leading to more losses.

Find Help with Grief

If you or a friend is dealing with grief, getting help now can keep alcohol from becoming the next problem. Call our toll-free helpline to learn more about grief and alcoholism. Counselors are available 24 hours a day.