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Stages of Grief in Addiction Recovery

Stages of Grief in Addiction Recovery

The five stages of grief in addiction recovery were first identified by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying. She wrote that people suffering from a terminal illness, as well as those who experience the death of a loved one, go through various stages of grief until they reach a resolution. These stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Today, we’re going to be looking at how grief and addiction recovery relate and the stages that an addict may go through.


Dealing With Grief and Loss in Recovery


They Miss Their Drug


Grief and addiction recovery go hand-in-hand for various reasons. For one, no matter how much havoc or trauma that an addict’s addiction causes themselves or their loved ones, or how grateful they are to be sober, many of them miss their drugs and actually grieve for them. While they may not feel this way all the time, most usually have moments when they miss the distraction and immediate “escape” from reality that drugs or alcohol gave them. Any challenges or stressors that they have in recovery must now be faced without a buffer offered by these substances.


They Miss the Ritual


Many addicts also miss the rituals of using drugs or alcohol when in recovery. The places, patterns, people, and secret activities of their substance abuse or addictive behaviors became ingrained into their daily schedules and were suddenly removed from their lives. And yes, while an individual might understand and agree that these behaviors were detrimental, for many, it’s difficult not to grieve such a major change.


They Miss Their “Freedoms”


Thirdly, freedom. Living a life controlled by addiction usually includes avoiding accountability and responsibility to people and activities that might interfere with using drugs or alcohol or engaging in addictive behaviors. The life of an addict in recovery often involves a great deal of accountability, commitments, responsibilities, and making amends with people they’ve hurt along the way.

In many cases, the partners of addicts will also go through challenges as their loved one slowly adjusts to a life without drugs or alcohol. Considering the mood swings and fluctuations in emotions that often come with recovering from addiction, partners may deal with the brunt of their partner’s emotional adjustment to a sober life, as well.


The Death of a Loved One


Finally, no one is ever really prepared to lose a loved one, and the death of a person you’re close to is just as hard if not more difficult to manage in addiction recovery. If the person were still in active addiction, they would have immediately turned to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism for their loss. But now that they’re sober, how do they cope?

Dealing with death and grief in addiction recovery is one of the toughest challenges any addict can face. Fighting the urge to seek an escape by drinking or using can overshadow any goals of a sober lifestyle. In these moments, it’s crucial for those in recovery to lean on others in their circle for support.


What Are the Stages of Grief in Addiction Recovery?


There is no single way to grieve, and the process of grieving isn’t a straight line. However, according to Dr. Kübler-Ross, the five stages of grief outlines a series of emotional phases that most people experience when faced with a major loss. Although they were initially intended to help people process grief after losing a loved one, they’re also helpful in understanding any loss, such as the loss of drugs and alcohol.


Below are the stages of grief in addiction recovery. 


  • Denial: This is the natural defense mechanism that a person leans on when they aren’t ready to acknowledge the loss. Denial is a buffer that allows us to slowly process the bad news so healing can begin. In cases when there’s someone who’s sick, the person may seek out a “second opinion” from several different doctors or convince themselves that the diagnosis was a mistake. A person with an addiction may deny it and make jokes about the severity of their problem.
  • Anger: As denial gradually fades, anger usually sets in. The person may direct this anger towards their close friends and family, despite not being at fault. People who believe in a higher power might feel rage, abandonment, and betrayal. For a person in addiction recovery, they might feel angry at their loved ones or sponsors for “forcing” them to undergo drug or alcohol addiction treatment. This anger is genuine, and it’s best for people to acknowledge it to eventually find peace and avoid extending the grieving process.
  • Bargaining: The bargaining stage of grief and substance abuse recovery refers to the person’s attempts at regaining some form of “normality.” In this stage, the person is beginning to realize that there is or might be a problem but instead try to compensate by working hard to avoid having to fully face the solution or reality of their circumstances. In this stage, recovering addicts might try to convince themselves that they can control their use of drugs and alcohol like a “normal” person, or they may try to make a deal with God or their higher power.
  • Depression: It’s common to feel an overwhelming sadness while grieving. It can be difficult to fully grasp the damage your drug or alcohol use has caused. They can no longer deny the situation, and eventually, it becomes clearer that bargaining is useless. A person in this stage of grief might feel depressed throughout the grieving process, or the feeling will suddenly hit them.
  • Acceptance: Although the person might reach the stage of accepting the situation for what it is, it’s normal to still experience sadness, regret, or anger. As they gain insight, they accept that drugs and alcohol can no longer be a part of their life, and they learn how to move forward.


Coping With Grief and Loss in Addiction Recovery


Whether you’re coping with the death of a loved one, a breakup, divorce, or you’re separating from drugs and alcohol, there’s no way around the grieving process. The best way to get over it is to go through it. With that said, here are some ways to cope with grief and loss in addiction recovery that can help make this process a bit easier:


  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise at least four times a week
  • Spend time with loved ones
  • Avoid your old hangout spots
  • Celebrate anniversaries if you’re sober or if you’ve lost a loved one
  • Try to give back to others by volunteering in your local community
  • Pray or meditate daily
  • Keep in touch with your sponsor or recovery advocate


Although the duration of this process is different for everyone, if you continue to struggle with grief or feelings of anger or depression during recovery, reach out for help. Our Texas treatment center offers various unique programs and therapies that can help you stay on track, including our 12 Step programs and our faith-based services.

For those who haven’t taken that first step towards a sober life, we can help you, too. Banyan offers Texas drug and alcohol treatment on a residential level of care for all kinds of substance use disorders. By incorporating psychotherapy modalities and physical treatment via medical detox, we promote both mental and physical healing from addiction.

For more information about our Texas treatment services, call Banyan Treatment Centers today at


Related Reading:    

The Difference Between Sadness & Clinical Depression

7 Things We Did in Our Addiction That We Can Laugh About Now

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.