5 Stages of Grief in Addiction Recovery

5 stages grief

The five stages of grief were first touched upon by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying, which was first published in 1969. The book explores the relationship that terminally ill patients have with their impending mortality, and the emotional process they must go through before accepting their ultimate fate. Since the book was first published, medical and psychological professionals alike have adopted the ‘five stages’ as applicable to all significant loss – the stages have become a vital part of modern-day psychology, in fact. Addiction specialists soon recognized that newly sober addicts and alcoholics experienced these stages as they mourned the loss of their active using.

The 5 Stages of Grief

  1. Denial

“I have everything under control.” “I don’t need help – I can stop using whenever I want to, I just don’t want to yet.” “I’m not an alcoholic.” Many alcoholics and addicts will cling desperately to the delusional belief that they have expertly maintained control of their drinking and using. This utter lack of awareness may be disturbing to the rest of the world – you weigh 80 pounds and spend all of your time locked in the basement shooting dope, what do you mean you don’t have a problem? It is important to understand that denial is merely the first step on the road to acceptance. One of the main goals of drug rehab is to break through denial and convince the individual (through blatant hard evidence) that he or she is suffering at the hands of a chemical dependency.

  1. Anger

“I don’t want to be here – I don’t want to be an alcoholic!” “This isn’t fair!” “Screw you, you can’t tell me how to live my life!” The alcoholic may feel that life has treated him unjustly. He may feel that he has been ‘cursed’ with the disease of addiction, and that a life of sobriety is nothing more than a torturous punishment. When I transitioned into the anger phase of grief, I began to hate all of my friends back home who could drink normally, resent my parents for staging an intervention, and despise the smug therapists who told me I was sick. I hated everyone and everything. I wanted to be ‘normal’, and I didn’t understand why I had been dealt such a crap hand. Self-pity ran amuck. Come to find out several months down the line, everything that was unfolding at that very moment was both a miracle and a blessing.

  1. Bargaining

“Liquor gave me problems, so I’ll just stick to beer and I’ll be fine.” “I’ll stay sober for 6 months, and really learn to moderate and control my drinking and using.” “I just won’t buy alcohol at the grocery store anymore, I’ll only drink at bars – I’ll only drink socially, never alone.” Bargaining is a tool that many alcoholics employ long before their drinking comes to an end. Somewhere deep within they recognize that they have lost control, but are unwilling (and probably unable) to admit this. So they franticly attempt to control their use, bargaining with themselves to no end and no avail. Eventually, they will come to realize that despite their self-imposed restrictions and guidelines, they are absolutely unable to successfully control and enjoy their drinking. And thus the depression sets in.

Acceptance is the Answer

  1. Depression

“Why me?” “Why do I have to be an alcoholic – why can’t I just be normal?” “This really, really sucks.” I vividly remember sitting in the far back of the white rehab van, tears streaming down my face as I silently sobbed. No one could possibly understand the way I was feeling. I was completely and utterly alone in the world. Of course, the van that I was sobbing in happened to be full of like-minded individuals, all reluctantly riding the exact same emotional rollercoaster I had boarded a little over a month prior. I sure as hell felt alone, though – and boy, was I miserable. I cried in the shower, I cried in my twin bed at night (after my roommate had forced me into reciting the 3rd Step Prayer on bent knee). Who was I praying to? I didn’t know; I didn’t care. I just wanted the pain to end. Fortunately, pain subsides greatly when acceptance is finally achieved.

  1. Acceptance

“I am an alcoholic – I need help.” “I can do this.” “I will be okay.” Acceptance, the last documented stage of grief, is essentially the beginning of a lifelong journey of healing. With acceptance will hopefully come willingness, and the recovery process can truly begin. Once an addict or alcoholic accepts the hard fact that he or she can never successfully drink or use normally, the emotional and spiritual restoration will commence. It has been found that undergoing the stages of grief is best done in a safe, therapeutic setting – which is one of the many reasons why inpatient rehab is so beneficial. Residential treatment allows clients a secure and supportive environment in which to grieve, coming to terms with the reality of the situation and beginning the journey of addiction recovery alongside a team of trusted professionals and supportive, compassionate peers.

The grieving process is painful, but it is one that will inevitably result in major personal growth. For more information, please contact us at Next Chapter Treatment today.