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Tips for Dealing with Grief and Death in Recovery

Many recovering people have already spent considerable time during their using days attempting to numb unpleasant feelings or block painful emotions using drugs or alcohol. Throughout their using days, the brain has become wired to believe that drugs or alcohol provide the fastest way to escape from negative feelings and provide some temporary respite.

5 Minute Read | Published Sep 28 2023 | Updated Mar 08 2024 Expert Verified
Emma Collins
Written by
David Levin
Reviewed by
Emma Collins
Written by
David Levin
Reviewed by

Tips for dealing with grief and death in recovery allow recovering people to learn healthy ways to deal with the pain of loss and bereavement without turning to drugs or alcohol.

Yet dealing with death in sobriety means the recovering person is exposed to a broad spectrum of emotions that can range from sadness, disbelief, guilt, anger, shame, fear, loneliness and shock. Many people also develop symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, along with disruptions to their physical health.

These are all normal reactions for anyone going through a major loss and each person may experience feelings of grief in different ways.

However, when a recovering addict loses a loved one, the temptation to escape from such overwhelming emotions can be more than some are able to bear in sobriety. Stress is known to be one of the major triggers for relapsing back into a cycle of addictive substance use, so the risk of relapse is dramatically increased while the person is trying to deal with death in recovery.

The pain of losing a loved one can be overwhelming is one of life’s biggest challenges, but it is possible to cope with grief naturally – and without the need for drugs or alcohol.

Dealing with Death in Recovery

Experiencing loss and bereavement is an inevitable part of everyone’s life at some point. The key to coping with death in recovery without relapsing is to acknowledge your loss and find healthy, productive ways to work through the range of emotions you’re experiencing.

Here are some tips for coping with grief and death in recovery.

Give yourself permission to grieve: Overcoming the profound sense of grief after bereavement is different for everyone, but it’s important that you give yourself permission to grieve in your own way. There’s little point trying to ignore the pain or numb it using drugs or alcohol, as those things can actually make the emotional pain worse.

Acknowledge your emotions: Far too many people attempt to ‘stay strong’ and pretend they aren’t feeling the array of emotions that overwhelm them. Yet it’s crucial to acknowledge the emotions you feel and not try to avoid them as you learn to come to peace with your loss.

Reach out for support: When you’re in the early, vulnerable stages of grief, it’s important you don’t retreat into yourself. Instead, take the time to seek support from people who care about you. You’ll also find plenty of support from others in recovery at group meetings. The people in group support meetings are all discovering new ways to cope with sobriety, so they can provide valuable tips and support when you need it most.

Take care of yourself: When you’re entrenched in a sea of painful emotions, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself physically and psychologically. Sleeping patterns may be disrupted, eating may not feel important and personal hygiene and grooming no longer matter while you’re trying to with death in recovery. Yet ignoring your personal care needs can be a strong early warning sign of a potential relapse.  Always take the time to practice healthy eating and sleeping habits. Taking care of yourself can reduce the risk of relapsing and make it easier to cope with your grief.

Maintain hobbies and interests: There is much comfort to be found in routine. Try to maintain your existing activities and hobbies that brought you a sense of purpose. Maintaining a routine and doing some of the things you were doing before your loss can restore a sense of normality amid your turbulent feelings.

Grief relapse prevention strategy: An integral component of any addiction recovery program is learning strong relapse prevention strategies to help maintain motivation to stay sober in the face of your known triggers. However, when you’re faced with the shock and trauma of a sudden loss, those strategies can quickly be forgotten.

Grief relapse prevention plans let you plan ahead for unexpected situations that could threaten your hard-earned sobriety. Your grief relapse prevention strategy should ensure you have the resources and tools you need to cope with the shock and pain of losing a loved one during recovery without increasing the risk of relapse.

Get personal counseling: Nobody needs to deal with grief alone. Having support from family and friends, along with regularly attending group meetings can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. However, a personal counselor can help you find healthy ways to cope with your grief without risking a potential relapse.

Everyone deals with loss in their own way. Yet coping with loss and death in recovery poses a range of additional challenges that need to be overcome.

Understand that there are different stages of grief each person moves through before reaching acceptance of the loss. It’s important to move through the stages at your own pace and acknowledge the feelings you feel in your own way.

Don’t let anyone else tell you how to feel or when it’s time to move on. It’s okay to take whatever time you need to process your emotions in a healthy way. The key to dealing with death in recovery is to use the resources, support networks and tools you learned in rehab to help you stay sober during such a difficult emotional time.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at (800) 429-7690.


bullet Alcoholics Anonymous (n.d.)
"Living Sober. New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc"
Retrieved on November 03, 2017
bullet American Psychological Association (2017)
"Grief: Coping with the Loss of Your Loved One"
Retrieved on November 03, 2017
bullet Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (2014)
"Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 57. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US)."
Retrieved on November 03, 2017
bullet Kubler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2014)
"On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss. New York, NY: Scribner"
Retrieved on November 03, 2017
bullet Lander, L., Howsare, J., & Byrne, M. (2013)
"The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice. Social Work in Public Health, 28(3-4), 194-205"
Retrieved on November 03, 2017
bullet National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018)
"Substance Use and SUDs in LGBTQ+ Populations"
Retrieved on November 03, 2017
bullet Neimeyer, R. A. (Ed.) (2016)
"Techniques of Grief Therapy: Creative Practices for Counseling the Bereaved. New York, NY: Routledge"
Retrieved on November 03, 2017
bullet Stroebe, M. S., Hansson, R. O., Stroebe, W., & Schut, H. (2001)
"Handbook of Bereavement Research: Consequences, Coping, and Care. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association"
Retrieved on November 03, 2017

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