opiate addiction causes depression
If you feel disconnected from other people, even in rehab, you may be experiencing existential grief. This unique type of grief operates under the surface at the subconscious level, which is what makes it so difficult to pinpoint and fix. However, it’s crucial that you handle it appropriately, as it can consistently throw your recovery efforts off-track when left unchecked.


The Effects of Grief

Given enough time and life experience, everyone finds out what grief is at one point or another. Grief is that deep sense of sorrow, emotional pain, shock, loss and numbness that occurs after a serious loss, often the death of a family member, friend or pet. The intensity of grief makes it particularly challenging when you’re in recovery for addiction, as it’s tempting to use substances as a form of self-medication for the pain that you’re feeling.

Psychologists typically distinguish between grief and bereavement. Bereavement refers to the state of loss you feel, whereas grief is how you react to that loss. However, for most people, the terms “grief” and “bereavement” are similar enough that they’re used interchangeably. What’s important to realize in regards to all this is that the death or loss of a loved one can cause quite a few very powerful negative emotions. You may feel at fault for the person’s death in some way, feel like you’ve been abandoned or develop a deep despair that turns into depression.

While grief is one of the most difficult things anyone can go through, it also has a purpose from an evolutionary perspective. When you go through grief, the experience makes your more resilient and able to deal with stress, which improves your chances of survival in the future. You’re essentially raising your habitual stress set point, so it takes significantly more to cause you to become this stressed in the future.

The problem is that the recovery process for grief is often difficult, as it can lead to stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, being released in your body continuously. This significantly increases your average allostatic loads, making you feel even sadder and weakening your immune system, so it’s more likely that you’ll get sick. All those stress hormones also increase the chances of making poor decisions. The consequences of extended grief are why it’s so important that you handle it correctly, especially when you’re also dealing with addiction.

The Difference with Grief and Existential Grief

Existential grief is fairly common in our society, but it’s not nearly as well-known. While grief relates to the loss of a person or pet, existential grief relates to a more intangible loss that shakes your faith in existence. This could occur when you lose your connection with a community, in a higher power or when you experience a betrayal.

One group where existential grief is particularly common is people who moved around frequently as children and only lived in each place for a couple of years, at most. Since they never stayed in any one place very long, they don’t feel like they are from any particular place, and they may have trouble building relationships in the future. Instead of an obvious sense of sadness, their existential grief could be a vaguer sense that things aren’t right or that they can’t connect with people.

You may experience existential grief when you lose your sense of your life’s purpose, your feeling that your actions matter or your connection with a community. The tricky part about existential grief is that you’re often unaware that you even have it, and instead just have that uneasy feeling that something is off, without being able to figure out what’s causing that feeling.

There are several common symptoms of existential grief. These include feelings of detachment, regret, loneliness, despair or alienation. You may experience existential grief as a consistent low to moderate level of stress. Because existential grief typically causes a lower level of stress, it’s able to affect you for longer periods of time without you recovering from it. Normal grief, in comparison, may hit you harder at first, but you’ll eventually recover from it, whereas you could have existential grief your entire life if you don’t fix it.

Existential Grief and Addiction

One significant challenge with existential grief is that it tends to disguise itself as something else, so you don’t see the connection between it and your addiction. That’s why it’s crucial that you understand how existential grief leads many people down the path of drug or alcohol addiction and derails recovery efforts. At a Delray Beach rehab, you may be surprised to learn just how many people are dealing with existential grief, even if they don’t realize it.

Existential grief often causes people to use drugs and alcohol as a way to rid themselves of the emotional turmoil they’re feeling at the time. This may work for a brief period of time, but it won’t last, and it will just lead to those people using repeatedly.

You can also experience existential grief during the recovery process. That’s when the stress from a loss of identity can occur. While your conscious mind likely understands that life will be much better if you can stay sober, the existential grief under the surface will have you fondly looking back on your time as a user. You may become nostalgic about the places where you would once hang out and the people you would see.

Dealing with Existential Grief

Existential grief isn’t easy to overcome, but doing so will dramatically improve your chances at overcoming your addiction and staying sober. Because this type of grief results in deep-seated addictive behavioral patterns, it’s wise to get help from professional coaches and therapists instead of attempting to deal with it on your own. Their experience can be invaluable in changing your thought processes and recovering from your grief as well as your addiction.


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