Grief and Loss in Recovery

Grief and Loss in Recovery
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Losing a loved one is an experience that stresses the body greatly. Cortisol levels rise, leading to many physiological and psychological effects on your overall well-being. 1 For those battling substance use disorders, grief in recovery can create challenges that may seem insurmountable. There are ways to help yourself grieve, even as you work through a substance use disorder.

Understanding Grief’s Impact on the Body and Mind

Grief releases cortisol, a stress hormone that can affect many systems in the body, including:

  • Immune system
  • Nervous system
  • Respiratory system
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Musculoskeletal system
  • Reproductive system

The high-stress levels that grief can cause can lead to inflammation while also lowering your body’s immune system. 2 It can increase blood pressure and cause a disruption in your sleeping patterns.

Grief and Loss in Recovery

Grief can also cause psychological damage. It can lead to fear, anxiety, and even trauma. For many people, it can affect how they see the world, leading to anger and depression, which can make structural changes in the brain.

For those battling a substance use disorder, grief can increase the risk of a relapse because of the many negative emotions it creates. Studies show that an average of 12% of those with a drug use disorder increase their use after a loss. 3

People with substance use disorders struggle to cope with stress and grief. This can lead to complicated grief, which is a long-lasting form of grief that can cause sleep disturbances and even suicidal thoughts. If complicated grief goes untreated, the chances of relapsing are high.

Understanding Grief's Impact on the Minds - dealing with grief in recovery

Dealing with Grief in Recovery

If you are recovering from a substance use disorder, learning healthy ways to battle grief is vital. Here are some tips to help you get through the grieving process without relapsing.

Give Yourself Time to Grieve

You must allow yourself to grieve for as long as you need to. You should never compare your grieving process with anyone else’s or think you must be in the wrong if your grief lasts more or less than someone else’s. Grief is a unique experience that presents differently in each person.

Working through a loss can be a long process, but rushing it will only push aside your feelings without letting you cope.

Sit with the Loss

When coping with grief, it is important not to try to ignore your feelings of loss but to face them. Substance use disorders can change your brain’s structure, affecting stress management. Grief can feel impossible to deal with, and your impulse may be to mask the symptoms with alcohol or drugs.

While in recovery, you need to allow yourself to feel grief and all the emotions that come with it to work through them. You want to recognize and discuss your emotions with your therapist or during group sessions.

Ways to Deal with Grief in Recovery

Be Consistent with Treatment

One of the best ways of coping with grief is to continue your treatment in a consistent manner. You may not feel up to talking or sharing your feelings in individual or group therapy sessions, but doing so can help you remain on track with treatment.

If you feel resistant to attending treatment sessions, speak with your therapist or others in your recovery team. They can help you refocus on your goals.

Avoid Triggers

Anyone dealing with a loss will be more vulnerable to triggers. This is even more the case for people dealing with substance use disorders. You want to remove yourself from any situations that can lead to addictive behavior. Surround yourself with supportive people so that you have fewer risks of relapsing.

Ask for Help

If you feel your motivation or resolve begins to wane after a loss, reach out for help. Be specific when you communicate with your loved ones or your recovery team. Tell them what you struggle with and how they can help you refocus on your recovery.

If you are dealing with a loss, now is not the time to try to be self-sufficient. Everyone needs support — especially during difficult times.

Eat and Sleep

Because of the way that grief impacts your mind and body, eating and sleeping can be a problem. Cortisol levels can make you lose your appetite or lead you to eat more than usual. It is important to eat and sleep as normally as you can.

Fluctuations in eating and sleeping patterns can lead to relapsing. 4 By maintaining your normal patterns, you can keep your mind and body healthy to work through the grief while remaining sober.

No Wrong Feelings

Grieving is different for everyone. The famous stages of grief are not written in stone, so it does not matter whether you go through all of them or not or experience them in a different order.

By accepting the way that you grieve and understanding that you can allow yourself to feel what you need to feel without having to act on all of your impulses, you can strengthen your recovery while also accepting the loss.

Ways to Deal with Grief and Loss in Recovery

Set Yourself a Goal

It can help keep you motivated as you grieve to set a new goal for yourself. Choose something that you can work at each day and that you can achieve in a short period of time. You can boost your self-esteem and start regaining confidence in yourself.

Do Something Creative

Expressing what you feel can help you process the loss. If you enjoy artistic hobbies, immerse yourself in them to start healing. You can also learn a new skill, which can help you stay motivated while also giving voice to your emotions.

Turn to Nature

Being outdoors can help with grief, especially if you engage in physical activity. 5 Nature can help lower your blood pressure, lower stress levels, and even boost your immune system. Something as simple as a hike can offer great benefits.


Doing something for others can also relieve grief while dealing with a substance use disorder. It can boost your self-esteem, putting you in a more positive mindset to work through your emotions more effectively during individual therapy or group sessions.

Get Help at Clear Life Recovery

If you have a substance use disorder and are dealing with grief after a loss, you don’t have to go through it alone. Grief in recovery is a complex process; you want to have a team of people helping you heal.

At Clear Life Recovery, we offer the treatment options you need to get sober, including inpatient, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient services. Contact Clear Life Recovery now to begin treatment.