Why Do Some People Turn to Drinking to Cope with the Loss of a Loved one?

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people at funeral

Losing a loved one at any age can be devastating. Grief and loss is a part of the human experience; with every beginning comes an end. The 5 stages of grief and loss, proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969, have become quite universal: 1) denial and isolation, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression, and 5) acceptance. These stages may ebb and flow, and a person may move on to one stage and may then take a few steps back on difficult days.

Self-medication is defined as the use of substances in order to cope with any physical or psychological ailments. Someone may abuse substances as a way to cope with unwanted feelings, such as depression, anger, shame, guilt, etc. A 2015 study titled “Dulling the Edges” sought to address this phenomenon by conducting semi-structured interviews on 35 men aged 19 to 25 years old, and 22 men aged 26 to 35 years old. These male participants identified as grieving the accidental death of a male friend; the researchers wanted to focus on ways participants used alcohol in the grieving process. The study identified three themes amongst the participants:

Using Alcohol to Dull the Pain – One participant described using alcohol to ease the pain of losing a friend who had such a positive influence on his life. Another participant expressed the pressure of what “being a man” means by staying strong and stoic amidst grief and getting through it one one’s own; several people mentioned that with limited coping mechanisms for dealing with strong emotions, alcohol seemed to be the only option.

Using Alcohol to Purge Sadness – Several participants mentioned the fact that being drunk would allow them to express their sadness without fear of being judged because the alcohol influenced their behavior. As a vehicle for free expression, alcohol was used to “let loose feelings of despair and sadness”.

Troubled Drinking – Many participants noted that while alcohol helped them all to connect in the face of their friend’s death, their drinking eventually became problematic. Heavy drinking became a normal activity for many, as one or two drinks no longer seemed to make them feel better.

There are other ways of coping with the death of a loved one. Surround yourself with those you love. Allow yourself to feel the pain and hurt. Seek out therapy. If you’ve developed a drinking problem, speak to someone from a reputable treatment center today. Recovery is possible.

Avalon Malibu is a world-renowned, California state-licensed mental health and substance abuse recovery center. If you are ready to seek treatment to develop the tools you need to overcome life’s obstacles and be on the road towards happiness, health, and well-being, contact Avalon Malibu today at 888-958-7511 for a consultation. It’s never too late, and there are people here ready to help you.





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