Grief is a powerful emotion with significant psychological ramifications. The brain tends to seek respite from emotional distress in any way possible. Prescriptions drugs such as narcotic painkillers and antidepressants provide this kind of relief in a potent but short-lived way.
Once the brain experiences that relief, however, it will crave it in a psychological way that is much more powerful than rational thought. Many people self-medicate their grief through substance abuse and end up with even more emotional pain and anguish as a result.
The Effect of Substance Abuse, Grief and Trauma on the Brain
Grief functions in the emotional center of the brain in much the same way as trauma. Certain experiences in life, such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or the discovery of bad medical news can create a wave of emotions that are too large for the brain to handle.
In order to prevent a complete emotional shut-down the brain tends to block off certain emotions the way a circuit breaker shuts down to prevent widespread damage during an electrical overload. While this may prevent something like a nervous breakdown in the short-term, these pent up emotions will continue to cause psychological problems until they are properly experienced and dealt with.
Substance abuse may provide immediate relief in the short-term, but as the individual builds a tolerance to the substance in question the effects diminish. No amount of prescription drug use will provide lasting healing from the effects of grief. Ultimately the affected individual is left with even more misery.
Effective Grief Therapy and Addiction Recovery
The key to successfully treating prescription drug addiction that arises from the self-medication of grief is to address the underlying emotional distress that drives it. In the most effective treatment programs this is accomplished through the following techniques:
- Specialized grief counseling that assists in the healthy processing of emotions
- Safe and comfortable support group gatherings that allow patients to help each other
- Medically supervised detox
- Introduction to healthy communication skills and activities that encourage emotional processing
- Opportunities to experience joy through outings, service projects and creative expression
- Relaxation and coping skill enhancement
Integrated grief and addiction treatment is available in either inpatient or outpatient formats and recovery professionals can help you determine the right type for your situation.