The Impact of Grief: Preventing Substance Abuse by Engaging in Self-Expression

Each of us will be uniquely affected by grief and loss throughout our lives. Inevitably, experiences of grief and loss can shake our worldview and trigger a wide range of emotional and behavioral responses that can complicate our healing journey. There is no one impact of grief, and similarly, there is no one right way to grieve. However, understanding how unaddressed grief can lead to destructive behavior patterns like substance abuse is necessary for persevering when the inevitable happens. Furthermore, recognizing the role of self-expression in fostering healthy grieving is essential for addressing grief rather than avoiding it.

At 12 South Recovery, we understand the role grief often plays in informing maladaptive behaviors like alcohol and drug use or other behavioral addictions. If left untreated, the impact of grief can truly spread like wildfire, affecting the lives of all who are connected to the person enduring the loss. To establish and maintain lasting recovery from any significant loss, it is necessary to consider healthy emotional outlets like self-expression. Moreover, at 12 South Recovery, we offer grief and loss treatment through a wide range of therapeutic services and modalities to enable self-expression and healthy healing.

The Impact of Grief

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), there is no one set course that grief takes. Rather, the length of time a person grieves depends on several factors, such as the:

  • Circumstances of the loss
  • Nature of one’s relationship with the thing or person lost
  • One’s personal needs

The VA also highlights an array of common grief reactions to help individuals recognize the varying impact of grief:

Psychologically: Grief can disrupt sleeping patterns, trigger surges in stress hormones, and cause a plethora of physical symptoms including breathing problems, restlessness, weakness, and immune system disruptions.

Emotionally: Grief can trigger strong and unavoidable feelings of sadness, isolation, loneliness, anxiety, fear, and resentment. Moreover, feelings of guilt may also arise as an individual begins to heal from their experiences of intense grief.

Mentally: Grief can create disruptions in an individual’s thought patterns, causing an individual to either feel unable to think of anything other than the loss or avoid thinking about the loss altogether. Individuals are also vulnerable to developing mental health disorders as a result of depression, anxiety, and other mental impacts of grief.

Socially: Grief can cause an individual to experience boredom, isolation, social withdrawal, self-consciousness, and even emotional sensitivity. Further, a person may struggle to develop new relationships.

The Five Stages of Grief

One of the most commonly used theories of grief, known as the five stages of grief, has helped many individuals work through their experiences of grief and loss. This theory poses that grief is a process that can be moved through in stages. The five stages of grief are as follows:

  • Denial and Isolation
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Conversely, some argue that the grieving process is more complicated than merely the five stages posed by this theory. This is because grieving is an ongoing process that occurs in waves. Also, it is important to acknowledge that grief is never a linear process, and intense emotions may be revisited from time to time despite one’s efforts to work through grief. Thus, recognizing that the impact of grief will always exist in some way reduces an individual’s motivation to avoid or deny it.

Preventing the Impact of Grief From Leading to Maladaptive Behaviors

As a result of the aforementioned impacts of grief, individuals may adopt maladaptive behaviors and self-medicating practices, such as the use of alcohol and other drugs. Although these behaviors don’t help in the long run, an individual is doing them to try to cope with the loss and its associated symptoms. Over time and through repeated use of addictive substances, however, individuals are vulnerable to developing substance use disorder (SUD), co-occurring mental health disorders, and other behavioral addictions.

Oftentimes, individuals are not aware that they are adopting these harmful behaviors until they experience the consequences of their substance use. However, to heal from the impact of SUD and establish lasting sobriety and recovery, they must also work to heal from the impacts that their experiences of grief have had on their life. Professional treatment programs understand this. At 12 South Recovery, we create individualized treatment plans for all of our clients to address and overcome any underlying causes of substance use, including experiences of grief and loss.

Self-Expression Techniques for Navigating Grief and Loss

In our grief and loss treatment, we prioritize the use of self-expression techniques to help individuals healthily express their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Providing an outlet for self-expression works to reduce our clients’ temptations to engage in maladaptive behaviors as an outlet for grief. In turn, self-expression techniques can help strengthen cognitive flexibility and emotional resilience when presented with new experiences of grief and loss in life.

Self-expression techniques often go hand-in-hand with various forms of creative expression, including:

  • Painting
  • Drawing
  • Journaling
  • Photography
  • Singing
  • Writing music
  • Dancing
  • Writing poetry
  • Engaging in a hobby

Finding a self-expression technique that is effective for navigating grief and loss can take time. Working with one of our professionals at 12 South Recovery can provide the guidance and support that one may need to establish lasting healing from the impact of grief on their life.

The impact of grief and loss is often earth-shattering. Thus, it is understandable that many people turn to alcohol, drugs, or other adddictive or unproductive behaviors in an attempt to cope. However, by submitting to these behaviors, an individual is vulnerable to developing chemical dependency, addiction, co-occurring mental health disorders, as well as an array of other problems. At 12 South Recovery, we promote the use of self-expression techniques in our grief and loss treatment to help individuals process and express their thoughts and emotions proactively. Know that no matter where you or a loved one stands with grief, we have the professional guidance and peer support you need to recover. Learn more by calling (888) 830-8374.

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