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Grief and Addiction: Coping After Tragic Loss

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Research shows that there is an association between grief and addiction.  Individuals who are experiencing grief may feel numb and disconnected from daily life.  Their grieving process can last for months or years and can cause anxiety disorders or depression.  Some people manage to find constructive ways to deal with their grief.  However, others may attempt to cope with their emotions by turning to addictive substances.  

Why Does Grief Lead to Addiction for Some People?

Grief is personal and everyone experiences it differently.  Their personality, family support system, and natural coping mechanisms determine the extent of their emotional pain.  These factors also play a role in whether the person will use drugs or alcohol as a coping tool.

A sudden traumatic event such as the loss of a loved one can cause a person to self-medicate.  They often seek solace through alcohol or prescription drugs.  Studies show that about 55-60 percent of grief and trauma victims develop a chemical dependency.  Further studies show that about 40% of bereaved individuals meet the criteria for depression within one month following the death of a loved one.

Also, people who struggle with prolonged or unrelenting grief are particularly vulnerable to developing a substance use disorder.  They want an escape from the ongoing bereavement.  Studies show that men and women who have complicated grief with depression have higher rates of alcohol dependence.  The study also suggests that bereaving men are twice as likely to develop an addiction than men who are not grieving.

Medications That are Involved in Grief and Addiction

Complicated grief (CG) is being considered for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).  However, CG shares many common features with major depressive disorder (MDD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).   Of course, CG differs in that it involves the loss of a loved one whereas PTSD is usually the result of being confronted with life-threatening situations.

Treating grief usually revolves around prescribing medications such as antidepressants.  These medications address symptoms such as sadness, anxiety, sleep disturbances, negative thoughts, or suicidal ideations.  The problem with this method is that antidepressants are highly addictive.  

Medications that are often prescribed to bereaved individuals include:

  • Barbiturates – to help a person sleep.
  • Benzodiazepines – to treat anxiety, panic attacks, depression, etc.
  • Klonopin – to relieve agitation or anxiety.
  • Prozac – to treat depression.
  • Ambien – to help a person sleep better.

These medications must be used as directed due to the risk of worsening the depression symptoms.  If misused, some of these drugs can cause dependency or addiction.  They also can cause various unwanted side effects.

What are the Side Effects of Antidepressants?

Antidepressants such as Prozac or Zoloft can cause several uncomfortable side effects, especially with prolonged use. Most of these drugs are intended for short-term use only, but many people continue using the drugs longer.  

Most of the mild side effects will diminish in a few days or weeks.  However, if the drug is misused or abused, the side effects can become intense or severe.

Table of Side Effects:

Antidepressants Barbiturates Klonopin Prozac Ambien
Anxiety, agitation

Nausea, stomach aches

Loss of appetite

Dizziness

Headache

Insomnia

Low sex drive

Dependency

Addiction

Headache

Drowsiness

Nausea

Skin rash

Low blood pressure

Dependency

Addiction

Dizziness

Disorientation

Headache

Drowsiness

Weakness

Sleep disturbances

Depression

Dependency

Addiction

Headaches

Nausea

Anxiety

Drowsiness

Dizziness

Sleep disturbances

Heart palpitations

Loss of appetite

Decreased sex drive

Dependency

Addiction

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

Rapid heart rate

Slow breathing

Muscle cramps

Memory loss

Disorientation Confusion

Anxiety

Aggression

Nightmares

Excessive sedation

Depression

Suicidal thoughts

Sleepwalking

Dependency

Addiction

Ambien can also cause unconscious behaviors such as driving, eating, holding conversations, or having sex.  Individuals who experience these episodes while using Ambien are unaware of the activities at the time they are occurring.  Lottery, they have no memory of the episodes.  

Individuals who are struggling with grief don’t need the added discomfort of medication side effects.  They should explore other methods for addressing their grief such as counseling or group therapy.  It is also helpful to eat nutritious meals, exercise, and spend time with friends or family.  

A person must give themselves permission to grieve and heal.  Otherwise, unresolved grief can manifest in health problems, depression, social anxiety, and more.

Treatment for Addiction at Design for Change Recovery

Millions of people carry the weight of emotional stress and pain after the death of a loved one.  It is a part of life we must all endure at some point.  For those who are struggling with the added burden of drug dependence, an addiction treatment program is the best option.  

To overcome addiction, a person must heal from the emotional, physical, and spiritual issues that contributed to their substance use.  At Design for Change Recovery, we provide a comprehensive program, a comforting environment, and a skilled and compassionate staff.  We are a fully licensed and accredited facility that ensures the highest level of addiction treatment available today.

If you are struggling with grief and addiction, contact us at our Lancaster, California facility today.  We will customize a program that is right for your individual needs and preferences.  

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Grief and Addiction: Coping After Tragic Loss