The Neuroscience Of Coping With Loss In Recovery

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girl suffering from grief loss

Loss is pain. Grief is pain. When we go through the motions of processing a loss, we are really going through the motions of grief, which is painful. Stress is caused by pain. Research has found that the brain reacts to emotional pain in an almost identical manner as it does physical pain. If you think about that gut wrenching, heart breaking feeling you experience after loss you can understand. Though nothing has touched you, the pain is great. Our Brains are wired with many processes to help combat both pain and stress. Thankfully, those processes usually involve eliminating the pain.

Exploiting Pathways

For the addict or the alcoholic, these processes are familiar. Exploiting the pathways and process in the brain for pain relief is part of addiction. Substance produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter, which communicates pleasure. Dopamine then moves through other parts of the brain creating feelings of good and happiness. Some substances like opioids interact specifically with physical pain relieving parts of the brain, like opioid receptors. Importantly, the brain learns to associate pain relief with the use of substances. When we start using drugs and alcohol to treat our emotional pain, we make that message clear as well. Eventually the brain learns to recognize any source of stress or pain as a need for the use of substances.

Loss as a Trigger

Experiencing loss can be triggering in recovery. As emotional pain sets in, the brain is reminded of the relief provided by drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, pain, grief, and loss, cannot be remedied with an instant fix like drugs and alcohol. Being in recovery, you’ve learned that all the times you needed drugs and alcohol to work, they never really did. After they wore off, the pain was still there. In an effort to make sure you never had to feel the pain, you used again and again. Coping with loss can be difficult, but it is no more formidable a challenge than getting and staying sober. Utilizing the tools and support you’ve developed through your recovery program will help you stay on the right track and stay sober through this difficult time.

By not relapsing in the face of loss, you help your brain reinforce new pathways which are learning that pain does not have to be met with escape found in substances. You’re blazing a new trail that your future self will thank you for.

Coping with loss can feel impossible. If you or a loved one are in need of clinical support to work through a loss in your life, call Avalon By The Sea today for a confidential assessment and more information on our treatment programs: 1 888-958-7511.

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