Monday, December 14, 2015

Mixing Grief with Alcohol: Will It Lead to Addiction?

Frequency of drinking is less important than the role that alcohol plays in the life of the grief victim.  ~ Margaret Gerner

A reader writes: It's been terrible and bumpy ride so far. Yesterday I wasn't too bad - at least not after I saw my grief counselor. This morning I drove our eldest son and his wife to the airport so they could return to their studies in the US. I've had all three kids plus one daughter-in-law with me this last month. We were all at my husband's bedside when he died. I made the trip fine, was able to concentrate on the road, say goodbye without too many tears and drove home again. Altogether a four hour trip. I got home from the airport, and collapsed into tears. It was early, so the two sons left at home - at least for now - were still asleep. I took a sedative, then a glass of wine, then one more glass of wine. Nothing helped.
I never drink in the morning. I'm not even usually a drinker. Nor am I the type to use sedatives and sleeping pills. Now I'm wondering if I'm headed down the road to addiction.

The overwhelming guilt, thoughts of regret and most of all the deep grief, loneliness and longing are eating me up inside. When does grief become pathological?

My response: It's important to remember that grief is not a pathological condition. It is a normal response to significant loss.

To be sure, loss creates an emotional wound, but it is an injury that can be healed. With help and understanding, the pain of loss can be transformed into a challenging new beginning, and your grief experience can become a healthy, positive and healing process. But to make the process of grief a healing one, you must go through it actively, which means moving through it thoughtfully and working with it deliberately.

Expressed grief can be worked with and released, but suppressed grief will torment you in ways you cannot control. Healthy, normal mourning is a process of honestly facing the reality of your loss, coming to terms with its impact on your life, learning to access all available resources for recovery, finding meaning in your loss and continuing to live productively in the years that follow.

Certainly reactions to grief can become complicated, whereby painful emotions are so long lasting and so severe that you're unable to function normally ~ but given the fact that you are participating actively in our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups, seeking information, finding available resources, reaching out for support and responding to our efforts to help, that is not likely to happen.

As for your concerns about using alcohol, the fact that you're "not even usually a drinker" and you're "not the type to use sedatives and sleeping pills" tells me that you don't have a history of substance abuse, so it is unlikely that you will suddenly develop an addiction to alcohol or drugs. On the other hand, when you're suffering something as devastating as the death of your spouse, the lure of taking something to dull the pain can be very seductive. Common as it may be, this strategy for avoiding pain only serves to aggravate it ~ especially in the case of alcohol, which acts as a depressant and often leaves you feeling worse. I encourage you to read this article about the dangers of mixing alcohol with griefAlcohol Is Not The Answer. As the author wisely states, “People do not die from grief, but they can die from alcoholism. It is important to remember that grief over the death of a loved one is an excuse for drinking - not a reason for it.”

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