Addiction Grief–Denial and Anger

Addiction grief has many things in common with the grief we feel in other situations of significant loss. People in Withdrawal and Detoxrecovery undergo a process of loss as they give up substance use and the life that supported it for sobriety. While it may seem counter-intuitive that losing an addiction would be an grief experience, it can be a profound one involving the same stages of other types of grief.

People with addictions have a great deal of difficulty overcoming denial about their conditions. They also struggle to overcome strong emotions that sabotage their progress such as anger, resentment and hostility. While there are many stages of grief for people who pursue recovery, two of them–denial and anger, are typically the most problematic when recovery efforts start.

Denial and Addiction Grief

Denial is characterized as the first stage of all grieving. It can last for just a flash of time or can persist for quite some time. It is the result of the initial shock we experience when a loss has occurred. We don’t believe it. We think it may be a mistake and we simply don’t accept the news or can’t yet absorb it.

Grief denial is not always a reaction to death or other significant loss such as divorce or property loss, for example. It can also occur when we are confronted with a medical diagnosis of addiction, for example, or the concern of loved ones who confront our substance use.  A loss occurs in those types of situations, too. We might lose our self-image, for instance, becoming no longer able to view ourselves and our behavior as acceptable.

Anger and Addiction Grief

Another stage of grief is anger and it can come and go at various times of the grief process just like all other stages. Typically, however, anger arises when our denial falls away. In dealing with an addiction, for example, it often comes as hostility, lashing out, blaming others and pushing others away that try to help. It can be thought of as part of the ‘fight or flight’ reaction in dire situations. We involuntarily mobilize for action when we feel threatened, endangered and at risk. Seeing our addictions for what they are and their impact upon our lives can cause such extreme reactions.

Other Stages of Grief

Other stages of grief also come and go as the recovery process continues. These include bargaining, or trying to work out a deal with the illness, for example. Maybe I can use a little or just sometimes is a common bargaining strategy for addicts. Another stage is depression in which we withdraw into our internal worlds of sadness, regret, helplessness and mourning. Finally, there is a stage of acceptance in which we go on with life, having adjusted to our loss enough to do so.