Addicts fear many things and these fears are what keep them in denial and prevent them from getting help for far too long. One common fear is simply being sober—losing the addiction that has dictated their lives for so long. It may seem counterintuitive, but when an addict goes through recovery and gets sober, he experiences it as a loss. He grieves the loss of his addiction. If you or someone you know is going through this process, learn to understand and cope with the grief.
If you are someone who has never struggled with addiction you might reasonably wonder why every addict in recovery isn’t rejoicing. Shouldn’t sobriety be cause for celebration rather than grief? Of course it should, but we can’t help how we feel and addicts do grieve their loss for a period of time. An addict uses drugs or alcohol like a crutch, as medicine or as a coping mechanism. With sobriety comes the fact that this daily comfort, the center of his life, is now gone and can never be used again. Sobriety is a shock and early recovery is often filled with grief among many other conflicting emotions.
The Stages of Grief
Outlined in the famous book, On Death and Dying, the five stages of grief are still recognized today as the steps through which we all proceed during the process of grief. Whether the grief stems from the death of a loved one or the loss of an addiction, the stages are the same:
- Denial — An addict typically stays in the denial stage for a long time. It is tough to face up to the reality of an addiction. It means taking responsibility for negative behaviors and consequences and admitting to needing help. These are not easy to do.
- Anger — Once denial begins to seep away, an addict usually becomes defensive and angry. He may be prepared to admit to having a problem, but he might also blame others for it. Anger is a safer emotion for many people than the true sadness of loss and grief, but it is merely a stopover.
- Bargaining — When an addict makes it through his anger, he will begin to beg for another chance. He will bargain and make excuses and promises in an attempt to maintain things as they are.
- Depression — During the depression stage, an addict truly realizes the devastation that his addiction has caused in his own life and the lives of others. He sees that sobriety is the only way, but he is also overwhelmed by feelings of sadness, shame, guilt and despair.
- Acceptance — During the final stage of grieving the loss of an addiction, the addict sees that being sober is the only way and that it is a real possibility.
Bearing the Loss of Addiction
Only when an addict has reached the final stage of grief can he truly move on from his addiction and learn to accept the loss. If you love an addict in recovery, be patient with him as he moves through the stages. During the first four he will be upset, angry, irritable, anxious and everything in-between. This is normal. Be patient as it passes and be supportive. Encourage your loved one to express how he is feeling. Holding it in only makes it worse. If time does not seem to help the negative feelings pass, make sure your loved one gets professional counseling. Many addicts need therapy even after going through a recovery program. Stay by his side, encourage him and support him and your loved one will learn to live without addiction.