When we force a loved one in rehabilitation to immediately be happy or pick up where they left off, we deny them the right to grieve. Systemic therapist, Lindsay Kramer, notes that drug use can be intimate in nature: “Like a new relationship, at first, the use is thrilling. There’s the high, the intimacy, the butterflies that come from anticipation of time spent together. When that time becomes more frequent, the attachment becomes stronger. Then comes the increased time spent getting high, followed by the isolation, the cravings for the drug, and placing the addiction as the only priority in one’s life. The feeling of love may even be developed.”
A person who is quitting drugs often goes through the many stages of grief defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. These are:
- Denial: An addict may feel that they do not actually have a big problem; that they do not need to attend rehab because they can fix their problem on their own. The person may actually accept the hurt they have caused others at this point, yet deny the damage they have caused themselves.
- Bargaining: An addict may try to bargain with themselves, approaching recovery by ‘just having one drink’ or ‘limiting heroin use to the weekends’. In this frame of mind, however, relapse may ensue and it becomes clear that there is a serious problem they need to face.
- Anger: When an addict realises the extent to which drugs have affected their life – alienating friends, resulting in job loss, etc., they can feel intense anger caused by the idea that their addiction has betrayed them.
- Depression: An addict can feel intensely sad once they discover that drugs are not on their side. They can feel that the road ahead is long and steep; they can also feel the loneliness and guilt which they have may have masked through drug use.
- Acceptance: This is the victorious stage in which the addict accepts that their relationship with drugs is over and that they are finally free to rebuild the parts of their lives that were lost or damaged when they were taking drugs.
One of the most positive aspects of grieving the end of addiction is the stunning yet painful realization that drugs may have been used to fill big voids in one’s life – once a recovering addict acknowledges their loneliness, sadness or pain, they can begin to make the positive changes that can lead to long-term fulfillment.
Recovery, Grieving the Death of Addiction, accessed February, 2017.
Aota.org, Recovery With Purpose: Occupational Therapy and Drug and Alcohol Abuse, accessed February, 2017.