1-805-202-3440

24/7 Confidential Hotline

Monday, March 30, 2020

Grieving the Loss of Your Addiction



At some point in life, everyone will experience the loss of someone they know: a parent, sibling, close friend, coworker, or beloved pet. We understand the despair, hopelessness, anger, and loneliness that accompanies the loss, and we understand that this is a part of life. 

When others are grieving, it is customary to offer them support and time to heal. This is born from our capacity for empathy for what they’re going through: How would I deal with this situation? What would I want to feel best supported?

However, it remains difficult at times to understand what we do not know or have not experienced firsthand; such as the pain of their specific loss in all its nuance. For the non-addicted population, the sort of loss associated with the ending of an addiction may seem incomprehensible.

However, what we know is that the difficulty of “losing” or overcoming an addiction can actually be very similar to the pain and reorganization of life experienced when we lose someone that we love. Knowing this, we can begin to have empathy for the process that we’re asking of our addicted loved ones. 

Exploring the Stages of Grief and of Change

This concept is not an entirely new idea, as Kubler-Ross’ well-known “Stages of Grief” have been compared to Prochaska and Diclemente’s Transtheoretical model, or “Stages of Change” with remarkable success, as in the work of Chambers and Wallingford. These stage models appear to complement one another in their discussion of how the loss of an addiction affects an individual similar to the loss of important figures in their life. 

In a complementary way, this is also dependent upon initially viewing one’s attachment to their substance of choice as similar to that of a primary relationship. Here too, the parallels are remarkable. With early stages of infatuation complete with arousal, euphoria, an increased preoccupation with the other, and desire to spend increasing amounts of time “with” them, later stages in the relationship are marked by periods of dysphoric separation, rife with a sense of loss and longing to regain access to the beloved.

Stages of Change

The “Stages of Change” model has been shaping the way that the treatment community views and explains the process by which individuals overcome addiction for the past 40 years. Its introduction by Prochaska and Diclemente was of the singular purpose to answer the question, “What are the steps required to make a behavioral change?” 

Whether the behavioral change means quitting smoking, deciding to pursue recovery from substances or harmful behavioral patterns or even implementing a new diet plan, this model is useful in its ability to help identify one’s readiness for change and to identify a path forward. Clinicians use this model to work with clients at their readiness level and suggest individualized and tailored interventions.

The stages of change are:

    1. Precontemplation
    2. Contemplation
    3. Preparation
    4. Action
    5. Maintenance


Stages of Grief

Applying the Kubler-Ross stages of grief to the process of overcoming one’s addiction may be a more relatable and understandable way of framing this sort of loss. With special attention to the emotional tasks necessary in working through and coming to terms with a loss, individuals may move throughout these stages in less sequential order. 

The Stages of Grief are:
      1. Denial
      2. Anger
      3. Bargaining 
      4. Depression 
      5. Acceptance 

Step by Step

  1. As with an individual in active denial of their loss, someone in the precontemplation stage of change has not yet come to terms with the reality of their situation, namely that they have a problem, and that in order to avoid consequences, something needs to change. Although they may be facing some consequences already, they may refuse to acknowledge the connection to their addiction or deny the scope of the difficulty.
  2. Those in the second stage may be beginning to understand the consequences of their behavior, as well as the magnitude of what is being asked of them. As they are in contemplation of the task before them, they may respond in anger, longing for the days when they could live in ignorance of the consequences. 
  3. As those in the third stage’s preparations begin to take shape, they make choices about how they will move forward, often bargaining with themselves or attempting to make concessions, despite knowing what must occur in order to fully recover. 
  4. Putting the plan into action may bring up associated memories that require finally confronting the reality of the loss. Whether we consider this stage to be a “depression”, in actuality, we are responding to the loss and confronting the new reality on a daily basis. Walking through this stage requires a steadfast determination and commitment to the creation of our new reality. 
  5. The final stages of maintenance and acceptance denote the realization of that new reality and suggest that the loss has been finally integrated into one’s understanding of themselves. 

Treatment at The Haven at Pismo

If you recognize yourself or someone you know in the above-mentioned stages, it may be time to seek treatment from California’s premier central coast provider. Our staff is equipped with the knowledge to help your loved one progress through their recovery and find acceptance in a life free of addictive patterns.  

With individualized treatment, we work to create a plan that works for you and your family. Call today at 1-805-202-3440 for a complimentary and confidential assessment.