Annually, about 88,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes. With that being said, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has placed alcohol as the third leading preventable cause of death in the country.
With such a huge death toll, you might know one or two who have passed away due to alcoholism. As with any other passing, it can be very hard to process. Such is especially the case if your loved one has been taken away at the prime of his/her life.
If you are dealing with a particularly hard departure – or if you know someone who is suffering from such a burden – then here are some pointers on how to cope with losing someone to alcohol addiction.
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You Can Grieve for as Long as You Need To
You don’t have to worry about not grieving according to the stages. The Kubler-Ross cycle posits that grief comes in the following levels: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. And if you mix up any of the steps before acceptance, that’s okay. Research shows that a lot of people do not grieve in the above-mentioned fashion.
What’s important is you go through the stages (even if not simultaneously) at your own pace, so you can reach the pinnacle of all: acceptance.
Talk About It
It’s important to not keep your thoughts bottled up. As with a shaken soda bottle, trying to keep it all in can lead to an unsightly explosion. With that being said, it is best if you confide with family or friends. Not doing so will keep you isolated – which is disruptive to the healing process.
Accept That What You Feel is Normal
Do you feel sad, even angry that your loved one has been taken away from you at an early age? Know that what you feel, although negative, is normal. As has been mentioned, grief often comes with denial, anger, and depression. It’s okay to feel these things, as long as you don’t get stuck on them. You eventually need to move on to reach the stage of acceptance
Don’t Forget About Yourself
For some people, the pain may be too much to bear that they don’t feel hungry at all. While the immense sadness can prod the bereaved to skip meals, this should not be the case. After all, it can be harmful to your health.
In her interview with the Harvard Health Letter, Dr. Maureen Malin stated that grief can affect the whole body. It can jeopardize one’s immunity, which explains why most people get sick while they are grieving. Grief can flood the body with stress hormones, which can worsen pre-existing diseases such as diabetes or heart failure. To make matters worse, it can lead to new sicknesses, such as heartburn or high blood pressure.
With that being said, eat 3 times a day – even if you don’t feel like doing so. Exercise for 30 minutes a day, even if you are feeling sluggish. This can help improve your health – even if you are in the midst of a stressful life event. Remember, your dearly departed wouldn’t want you to get sick as you grieve for him/her.
Join a Grief Support Group
Peer groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous can help curb addiction (among many other problems). Your loved one might have failed to attempt a session or two, but that should not be the case for you. You should join a peer group, such as a grief support circle. This ‘buddy group’ can help you achieve the following, according to Riley et al.:
- Share your grief and memories (as mentioned, it is important to talk about the death of your loved one).
- Receive (and give) empathy and sympathy from a person with the same situation as yours.
- Make friends, so you don’t feel isolated (as mentioned, isolation can get in the way of recovery).
- Have people who could check up on you, to see if everything is okay.
It’s Okay to Seek the Help of a Professional
While most people mourn the death of a loved one on their own – or with the help of a grief support system – not everybody can do this feat. Grief can be so severe or complicated that anxiety and depression often accompany it. Such could be the case in people who lost loved ones to alcoholism.
In his interview with the APA, Dr. Robert Neimeyer expressed that several factors result in complicated grief:
- Sudden and unexpected deaths.This is usually the case with alcohol poisoning, as some people are unaware that their bodies are shutting down due to excessive drinking.
- Loss of children or relatively young people. According to NIAAA, about 25% of deaths from the 20-39 age range are related to alcohol. They are deemed to be at their prime – and as such, losing them can cause severe grief among loved ones.
- Relative closeness of the deceased person to the grieving individual.If you have lost a parent, sibling, child or anyone near you to alcohol, you might grieve harder than most people.
Should you find yourself miserable and unable to overcome your loved one’s death, know that not all hope is lost. You can see a grief specialist who can help you with the process. Grief treatment usually encourages positive emotion and finding meaning in loss. Other aspects of therapy include:
Fostering a continuing bond with the deceased person.
Neimeyer has said that more revolutionary techniques are being used in grief counseling. Instead of the usual pattern of ‘letting go,’ the bereaved is encouraged to bond with the dead. The therapist can help him/her by reminiscing the good times, creating an internal dialogue with the deceased, and thinking of the person’s reactions to current events.
Coaching symptom-management techniques.
There are two types of practices that can help with complicated grief, according to Psychologist Donald Meichenbaum. In his interview with APA, he lobbied for relaxation exercises, which include calming breaths, muscle relaxation, and guided imagery, to name a few. He also advocated for thought-stopping, which can help control thinking so emotions and behaviors are improved.
Alcohol is attributed to 88,000 deaths in the United States. While grieving for a loved one is hard, it can be done at your own pace and time. And, if grief becomes so severe, you can always seek the help of a grief counselor.