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Does Recovery from a Substance Use Disorder Come with Grief and Loss?

There is no doubt that the path to recovery from a substance use disorder comes with a fair amount of loss experienced along the way. For individuals who associate or have associated with family and/or peers who frequently drink or use, it is not uncommon to know someone who has died from complications due to long-term alcohol dependency or from injuries sustained in an alcohol related accident.

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), approximately 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year.

Sadly, for illicit drug users, the experience of loss is also common. Many illicit drug users can recount the number of individuals in their lives who have died from a drug overdose or other complications related to prolonged drug use.

In 2018, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 67,300 Americans died from a drug overdose.

For substance users who are on the path toward recovery, these losses contribute to increased fear, evoking a desire to pursue a life change as they become part of a collective story rooted in trauma.

A Different Kind of Loss

While medical complications, accidental deaths, and drug overdoses that result in death are major factors contributing to loss, there is another form of loss that rarely gets discussed in treatment. This is the loss of friends, family, and activities that do not support a sober lifestyle. Individuals that work hard to achieve sobriety find themselves facing a difficult challenge which is separation from people, places, and things that were once part of the substance use lifestyle.

Such decisions can create painful losses. Some people are faced with choosing new peer groups after realizing their friends do not respect their decision to be sober. For others, friends begin to self-distance due to the false belief someone who chooses to be sober will no longer be fun to spend time with.

One’s choice of weekend social meetup locations such as a bar or club are suddenly a trigger for use and thus avoided. Hanging out with people who still actively use means running the risk of seeing paraphernalia or drugs lying out in the open which becomes tempting for one to use again.

Even more devastating for some is the loss of attending certain family gatherings due to knowing that alcohol will be consumed in celebratory excess or having to separate from a partner due to knowing their sobriety will not be supported. These are just some forms of loss that can occur, yet there are many others that people on the path to recovery might face.

Losses Are Part of the Treatment Narrative

Treatment providers should be aware of how these losses are part of the treatment narrative. Providers should be prepared to assist these individuals in processing and averting such losses when appropriate.

At Jackson House Addiction Recovery Center, we know how to help you navigate and/or avoid these losses. Learning how to not be ashamed of your recovery is a first step. We teach you how to live and enjoy life again without drugs and alcohol. More importantly, we do not tell you how to achieve this. Rather, we work with you to individualize and prioritize what will work best for you given your goals, interests, and current healthy support systems. We believe such collaboration leads to more favorable and lasting outcomes.

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