Grief and Addiction: Coping with Loss

Losing someone you love is a devastating situation that we will all experience at some point. However, we all navigate this process differently, and losing someone to addiction can evoke various emotions, such as guilt, anger, and judgment from outsiders.

Grief and addiction are related topics; according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 100,000 people died from drug overuse in 2022. Studies have also indicated that untreated grief might increase the risk of falling into substance abuse.

At GateHouse Treatment, we support anyone recovering from substance abuse, and we know that each patient has individual experiences that lead to their addiction. We believe that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and like any loss, the grief of substance abuse passing is painful and follows different stages with ups and downs. During this challenging time, it is essential to recognize that it is normal to experience a flood of emotions, and acknowledging them at your own pace can help in processing the pain.

Recognizing Shock

People might experience shock after a traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one to addiction. Everyone reacts differently to these kinds of situations. While experiencing emotional shock, some people feel completely numb, while others may experience anger, panic, or disassociation. There are also physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, breathlessness, nausea, or dizziness.

Emotional shock is often momentary, but if it persists, it can develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which needs to be treated by a mental health professional. The most important to recover your emotional balance is to seek comfort and safety by surrounding yourself with loved ones, staying hydrated, and accepting you need time to process the loss.

Dealing with Grief and Addiction

Guilting is a common and normal feeling in grief, especially for those who have lost someone due to addiction. It’s natural to have persistent thoughts about what more you could have done to support your loved one in their struggle. In addition, those around you might echo similar questions, reinforcing your sense of guilt. It’s crucial to recognize that it’s normal to experience guilt when navigating the complex journey of grief and addiction. However, you are not accountable for the choices your loved one made. It’s essential to refrain from blaming yourself for their decisions. There is nothing you could have done to avoid the loss.

Feelings of Anger

Those who have lost someone due to addiction can experience anger and frustration because they feel their loved one didn’t try hard enough to overcome their addiction. However, overcoming substance use disorder is a process that requires professional help and may be a lifelong journey. Unfortunately, not everybody with a substance use disorder can get the support needed to maintain lifelong sobriety.

We have no control over other people’s choices, so it’s normal to feel anger and confusion. These feelings don’t detract from your positive experiences with your loved one. Try exercising to release anger and find new ways to express your feelings, such as writing.

How to Cope with Stigma?

Unfortunately, many people dealing with the grief of losing someone to addiction face undeserved blame for tragic outcomes due to addiction; some even go so far as to suggest you should feel relieved. These acts have adverse effects, as it involves mistreatment and emotional harm that leads to isolation, which makes the pain of loss worse and more challenging to endure.

It is important to remember that many people are uneducated about the complexity of addiction as a disease. The most effective approach to coping with stigma is understanding and communicating that grappling with a substance use disorder is an illness like any other. You can also seek support from individuals who comprehend your situation, and you always have the option to decline to answer questions that make you feel uncomfortable.

Seek Help or Support

Remember you are not alone, and avoid enduring suffering in silence. Having a support system while navigating through grief and addiction can provide you with a better understanding and validation of your emotions. The confusion and overwhelming blend of feelings can intensify the sense of hopelessness. Expressing your emotions can assist in recognizing and coping with them and identifying challenges you might be encountering. Neglecting your emotions can potentially lead to other health issues in the future.

Allow Yourself the Time to Grieve

Learning how to cope with grief begins with comprehending how much it can impact you. We can rediscover our path to a meaningful life by confronting feelings of loss and sadness; this is the only way to move forward despite the time and willingness it takes to accept reality. Each person experiences grief at their own pace. Have the courage to be patient with yourself and grant yourself the time needed for healing, guided by self-compassion.

Going Through Depression

Depression is one of the stages of grief; however, since grief is not a linear process, depression can manifest before acceptance. During this stage, you start to recognize and experience the absence of your loved one. Some symptoms of depression include difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, low energy, fatigue, feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anxiety.

The severity of depression can vary from mild to severe. Individuals facing severe depression might find it challenging to get out of bed in the morning and complete daily tasks. Additionally, those with this condition may experience heightened irritability and difficulty concentrating, which can hinder their ability to work.


Acceptance doesn’t imply that you are content with the loss; on the contrary, this stage involves acknowledging your sadness and pain and understanding that there is a new reality that you can´t change. However, the difference lies in your capacity to start looking forward and planning; this marks the final stage of grief, where you begin to embrace the present, comprehending the full extent of the loss rather than resisting it.

During acceptance, you start to experience increased positivity and security. In this phase, you adapt to the circumstances, engage with reality, and feel more present, facilitating open and assertive communication.

Some strategies that can assist you in reaching the stage of acceptance are:

  • Allow Time: Grieving is a painful process, and even while moving towards acceptance, it’s natural to have moments of sadness or renewed anger.
  • Look Ahead: When you feel ready, contemplate and plan for a brighter future. It´s normal to experience guilt or sadness in this process, but gradually, you’ll learn to accept the events you can’t change.
  • Embrace the positive: While it might sound cliché, focusing on happy memories and the lessons you’ve learned throughout the grieving process, especially when dealing with a loved one with a substance abuse disorder, can contribute to building resilience.

Why is Prevention Crucial to Avoid Loses? 

If your loved one is going through compulsive drug-seeking behavior that they cannot control, it’s important to seek recovery soon. An intervention might be the best action to get those you love on the right path.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Addiction is treatable and can be successfully managed. People recovering from an addiction will be at risk for relapse; however, research shows that combining addiction treatment medicines with behavioral therapy ensures the best chance of success for most patients.”

Treating substance abuse is lifelong, but becoming the best version of yourself and avoiding relapse is essential.

GateHouse Treatment and Recovery

Dealing with a substance abuse disorder is never easy, and seeking professional assistance is essential. Everyone deserves the opportunity to overcome alcohol or drug abuse and avoid the worst outcomes. At GateHouse Treatment, we provide the support necessary to take the crucial step toward recovery.

Our programs include outpatient, intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization options, and therapeutic interventions. These avenues initiate the journey toward sobriety and help individuals create positive habits, leading to a fulfilling life free from substance abuse.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addictions, call us at (855) 448-3588 for a free consultation, or contact us on our website to explore how we can assist you in achieving and sustaining sobriety.

GateHouse Treatment Editorial Staff
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