There are stages of grief you go through when loved one is in addiction

When you have a loved one in your life that is addicted to alcohol or drugs, it can be extremely tough on YOU. 

I understand. The person that you absolutely adore, whether that’s your spouse, partner, relative, son, daughter, etc., is not who they used to be. That person is imprisoned by the disease of addiction….

And you are left feeling so many emotions.

Sadness is my biggest struggle. Being powerless to change a loved one’s addiction, that can feel awful. It almost feels as if you’ve lost that loved one…(and maybe you have) and a result is GRIEF.

Just as there are stages of grief when a person dies, there can be stages of grief in addiction.

1. Denial 

You may have gone through a period where you were in denial when it came to your loved one’s addiction. It’s a natural defense mechanism. Why would we want to believe our loved one has become addicted to a substance? We don’t…and it can take time to accept the reality of this.

2. Anger, Guilt

For me, if I don’t watch it, guilt will eat me alive. Did I cause my child’s addiction? My ex's addiction? And anger that they won’t reach out for help…that they won’t do SOMETHING to end the addiction….anger at alcohol….anger at those that enable them….anger in general. I mean, that’s my loved one imprisoned by this freaking substance!!!!

3. Bargaining

This is like the “If only” stage for me. If only I’d have done this or didn’t do that.  Maybe he or she wouldn’t have turned to alcohol in the first place. And here I turn to God, begging for some sort of help in the situation….

4. Depression

This is where I go when I don’t see positive results…. Not from my countless “talks” with the person, my prayers, and attempts to change the situation. Here is where I sink…and worry…and cry...and become vulnerable. Here is also where I get very real with God. Where humility surfaces. Where I begin to really surrender, and let go. Here is where I pray the serenity prayer more than ever. Doing my best to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

5. Acceptance

Here is where a surrender and acceptance occurs. Not that everything is wonderful, because the addict may still be an addict and the alcoholic may still be an alcoholic, but I’m no longer taking the blame for it. I may still feel sad at times, but I’m no longer wrapping my world around their life. I’m no longer freaking out or walking around angry and sad…(most of the time)

Here is where I lovingly detach emotionally from the addict. Not allowing their addictive behavior to cause me to stop living. To lie awake at night. 

I surrender my will…and personally, I take it to prayer. I recognize the DISEASE of addiction…and consistently work on me and my life, while lovingly being supportive of the addict. 

Granted, not everyone goes through each stage in succession and not everyone gets to stage 5. But there is a process one goes through when a loved one is caught up in addiction.

What do you think about the stages? Do you recognize yourself in a stage? What has helped you move from one stage to another?

  • 25 Commentsby Likes|Date
  • This is exactly what I needed to read!Thanks for accepting my request!I do feel like Im greiving then I feel guilty for not being there,I feel like if I accept it then ive given up on my daughter...This majorly sucks!How do I get to the point of acceptance? I do know that who I knew and what I know now is not the same person...its done.
  • I'm in the stage of depression
    It's deep. It's awful it hurts
    My son is an addict I feel I lost him
  • @Mommasheathen83... I think detaching is a major part of acceptance. As Melody Beattie says in her book Codependent No More, detaching doesn't mean that you stop loving, caring, or supporting your loved one; it just means that you learn to do those things without making yourself crazy. Is detaching/acceptance easy? Hell no. But if you don't work hard to get there, you will continue to suffer. You always have to remember that YOUR life matters, too. If you allow yourself to become addicted to your loved one's addiction and let it control your life, you will go down a black hole of despair. I know, because I've been there.

    Acceptance does not mean that you're giving up on your loved one's life. It means you're taking control of your life.

    I hope that makes sense.
  • @DeeD I'm sorry your struggling... bless your heart...

    Detachment may seem harsh or unloving, but I look at it as allowing my son the opportunity to grow and learn lessons...on his own...and experience consequences to his choices. he is an adult. i remind myself of that constantly. he doesn't want my advice or help...even though I think it would help him...

    My detaching doesn't mean I give up on him. What I do give up is by lovingly detaching is my illusion of ever being in control in the first place... I give up my fears... they try to come, but I do not allow myself to dwell on those thoughts... I replace them with good, positive thoughts and images of the son I his core level...

    It's a process. When I do speak with him, I delight in him... I accept where he is at this time... and love him there...

    I didn't cause it. I can't cure it. What I can do is love him... delight in his presence...affirm I am here if he needs...and pray. OH, and take care of me.. go on living my life. 

    It's not easy... but I find myself worrying less...and believing the best for him more.

    Hope this helps.
  • Hi there, I’m so stressed and I don’t know who to talk to. My husband of 19 years recently admitted an addiction to Oxy and I’m just SO MAD at him.  I can’t talk to any of my friends or family because then it will just be the group gossip. I’m just so over it.  He wants me to be supportive and love him through his recovery process but deep down I’m
    really really mad at him for being so stupid. I can’t talk to him without being angry or accusing and that’s not helping things.  Even though I know it’s not helping I can’t help how I feel. I
    DO LOVE HIM but WHAT THE!!! Seriously. We’ve been thru this already. We’ve already done the addict recovery bit. I met him when he was an
    addict/teen/young adult. We went through some tough times but for 14 years he’s been sober from narcotics. We have been through so much and recovered from it. He’s finally overcome the prejudice he earned from being a reckless teenager and is now a respectable person in our
    community and we have kids with normal lives and he’s going to blow it all. We’re starting to struggle financially even though we both have good jobs. I just don’t understand why he even started taking them. I knew he occasionally took muscle relaxers and
    I always hated that but it was a random thing that I didn’t nag him about since
    he does have a physical job and his back etc. does hurt a lot. What I didn’t know is that a while ago he started taking Oxy and it has progressed now to taking them all the time. He came out and admitted he had a problem and asked me for help to get clean a few months ago. When he first told me I was upset but I tried
    to be understanding and worked with him to ween himself off the pills. But since then he keeps going back to them,
    then admitting to me, and we start the process all over. He’s destroying the trust we’ve always
    had. I can’t leave money in the bank
    account because he pulls it out to spend it on pills. I have to monitor his paychecks. He’s borrowing money from other people and
    then I have to pay them back to cover for him but it comes out of the money
    that should be going to our household finances. How am I supposed to be understanding about that? One minute he tells me to help him by making
    sure he doesn’t have cash available to him but then the next he’s being evasive
    and annoyed that I’m asking him questions. I feel like I’m not overly pushy about it but OMG it’s so frustrating to
    try and carry on a normal day when I’m constantly worrying about making sure
    there’s just enough money in the account for him to buy lunch and get gas but
    not enough for him to go buy pills. Trying
    to not be resentful when I’m trying to pay bills and can’t quite make ends meet. Trying not to worry about other little things
    like him helping around the house or him leaving work early since or him going
    to a friend’s house: I’m already irritated so it just comes across super naggy and
    suspicious. Trying to act loving and
    supportive when really I’m angry and resentful. :(

  • I am so sorry you are going through this,I dont think anyone wants to see their loved ones suffer through addiction,I feel as though we sacrifice a lot lot emotionally and we lose so much of who we are in the process.I am so grateful to have found this website,you all have been beams of light and strength and not feeling as I am alone in this.I haven't been able to sleep and had quit a job that was stressful and this just pushed me over the edge as far as my ability to handle everything,I feel as I havent been happy or content in a while.Everyday is a new day I exercise and go for walks and that does help.Thanks so much for your feedback,learning to let go,its hard because the holidays are coming up...and she is very depressed..
  • @annepotter hey there. thank you for sharing. it is understandable you're angry... it's not something you want to deal with...and you expect more from him.

    it's tough to navigate this.... you want to be supportive, yet not enable. you want to trust, but very tough to when he has lied over and over.

    boundaries. you're going to have to learn how to set them and keep them. might help to see an addiction specialist to navigate this time in your life. you should not have to go crazy in the process of his recovery attempts... there are also support groups... narcotics anonymous... just for your information should you desire to attend...

    i'm sorry you are going through this. i'm sure he doesn't want to be addicted... the disease of addiction is cunning...sly...and can be powerful... i do hope he can get to the root of it..and overcome it. is he reaching out for help? 

    this could be an opportunity for you both to grow individually and together...but it might take a professional to help you navigate the obstacles that come along with it....

    sending you big cyber hug.
  • @annepotter... Welcome to the community. I'm sorry you're having to deal with your husband's Oxy addiction. My best advice to you is to take good care of yourself. Your life matters, too, and you deserve to be happy and healthy, both physically and mentally. Try not to let your husband's behavior dictate how YOU feel. I know that's easier said than done, but with practice you can do it.

    I highly recommend the book Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change. It's written specifically for partners/parents of people struggling with addiction and it's full of incredibly helpful information. I think it will really help you deal with your anger and resentment.

    You are not alone, my friend. We are here to help and support you any way we can.

    Sending you love, light, hope, and hugs.
  • @annepotter I completely understand where you are coming from right now. My husband had some major surgeries and I knew he was taking pills but NOT to the extent it turned out to be. He went from taking 20+ pills per day to zero, which is good for him BUT he told me he blew through more than $12,000+ and we are now completely broke and I am just angry! (i cry ALL the time it seems like) When I try to take care of myself, he tells me I am selfish and need to grow up. Im really torn cause I want to be happy yet I know that our daughter and him are SO close that it would absolutely kill them to be apart so I stay and suffer in silence. He is an amazing parent (sometimes better than I am I admit) 
  • @dominica and @DeanD - thank you both for your responses.  I do feel a bit better right now and have been able to have more constructive conversations with my husband already just from 1) posting and getting it off my chest and 2) your kind responses.  It's amazing how much we hold in and how that affects us every day.  I bought the book you recommended this morning and will start reading it.
  • @BC2448 I'm sorry you are suffering as well!  I think it is good to post.  I waited too long to try and talk with someone.  I already feel like a weight has been lifted off my chest just to get some of the pain and thoughts I was feeling out somewhere.  Hopefully posting has helped for you as well.  It is so hard to know where to draw the line.  I have been wavering between anger/sadness/love/guilt and total detachment.  I think that feeling of detachment is the worst for me - although some of the things I have read it is recommended to detach to deal with the roller-coaster of emotions.  But detachment is where I find myself giving up on him and not caring if he leaves.  Not caring about all of the things that we have gone thru- good and bad.  Not caring about the effect divorce would have on our children.  I feel like  these periods of detachment help with setting boundaries and help bring clarity to the situation, but it doesn't help me save my marriage.  During those periods I just feel like it would be easy just to move on and I don't feel guilty about it.  He has always blamed his parents divorce for triggering the drop-out/drugs/etc. path he went down as a teen (they divorced when he was 13).  So any time I am acting detached or remind him that I have the ability to walk away at any point if he doesn't get help, he brings this up and says that I would ruin our kids lives.  I think about those things too!  My kids think everything is normal - although my 14 year old has picked up on some tension and asked a couple questions.  I'm trying to keep them out of it though.  My parents had a very vocal divorce and it was hard on me.  I don't want my kids to have the same feelings of guilt that I had as a kid.  I don't want my kids to not trust their dad or think that he is a bad person.  He is a good dad and very involved in their daily lives.  I think about how he would be worse if we weren't there to support him, and how they may blame me if their dad gets all messed up since I'm the one who left.  At the same time I do not want to suffer.  I did not make the choice to use.  It is not my fault.  I have encouraged him to get help, go to counseling, go to the doctor, do something.  I have offered to go to counseling too.  In fact I may anyway, just to help my own mental stability.  When is enough, enough?  I am going to start reading Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change. Hopefully that may help.  He is also going to see an addiction specialist on Tuesday.  He keeps wavering because of the cost and we are already strapped for funds + he keeps thinking that he can stop using on his own.  I have to keep telling him that he needs to go.  I cannot be his counselor anymore.  I am making things worse with my negativity and every conversation turns into a lecture.  He needs someone else to encourage and support him so I can just be his love.
  • @Mommasheathen83 ; and @DeeD - I haven't had the experience of knowing the pain as a parent of an addict, but I do know it is possible to overcome addiction.  My husband used marijuana and other recreational drugs in his teens, dropped out of school, and then was a meth addict for the first 4 years we were together, age 18-22.  His parents had completely detached from his situation by the time we met.  I can understand why with all the things he put them through!  When I met him I was 18 and young and dumb and thought I could change him if I stuck with him and just loved him enough.  I look back now and realize that I enabled his addiction and allowed it to rule my life.  He was finally able to get clean because 1) he went to jail for a year due to drug use and 2) we moved after so he was completely separated from the people he had been influenced by in the past and 3) he had loving family there to support him - once he made the decision to change.  14 years post-addiction... and now we're going through a pill addiction he's started.  You would think I would be better at this since I've been through it before but all I've come up with is that I am not going to be the same enabling person I was then.  I am so glad I found this site and am going to try to implement the advice given by @dominica and @DeanD.  I can't give any advice but please know you are not alone!  <3

  • WOW I have been wavering through the same emotions!. Like you our daughter thinks everything is normal. I'm trying to detach as well he is doing stuff he likes such as going to the gun range and go to the racetrack but when I tell him I don't want to go (1. Because I have never really cared for those things and 2. I thought we were BROKE) he gets an attitude and stuff. My husband is doing an out patient program which worked for this week because he is on vacation. I'm nervous about next week when he goes back to work. His friend is actually paying for the treatment. I have no family (and no friends cause I have been so secluded and got tired of him calling me selfish when I had a friend who wanted me to do lunch or dinner.
    Like you, I often think when is enough, enough? Yet I know that my daughter seeing me cry because I am so miserable isn't healthy for us either.
  • I know I need to let go..but I just cant..I feel so stuck right now and my life is on hold until she is well...or otherwise..
  • I am stuck! I keep going back and forth from anger and depression. My husband has basically chosen heroin over me and our three boys. I hurt so much. I stay up at night wanting to sleep trying to forget trying to let go of him. I can't help who I love but it's like I'm trying very hard to move on but can't. I am very young still but feel left to take on all the responsibility. I want so badly to let go I'm trying to very very hard. I want to move forward and start a healthy life with my kids. I get stuck cause I hate feeling like I have fail even thou I know I didnt and I know I did 100% everything I possible could for him. I go back and forth why doesn't he care how can he not care how can he throw us away. Then I go back to its not his fault cause he was sober and he got injured cause he did about a year ago and now it like his reason to have to use. I lost my car cause he didnt want to help me pay any bills I lost my job cause he didnt want to help watch the kids now winter is coming and what Im suppose to push a stroller in the snow....idk I forgive him for some of it but some I can't I have so much resentment so much pain but yet I still have so much love for him. I pray every night for god to just let me let go....I hate seeing my son hurt over this its like my heart being ripped out of me I cant explain to him that's not your dad or what he is struggling with nor should I at his age either....
  • @Mommasheathen83 and @memekells... I am sending both of you lots of positive energy and hope. You are both in very difficult situations, for sure. Just remember: YOUR lives matter, too. If you allow yourself to be consumed by your loved one's addiction, it will drag you down to a point where you won't be able to help and support them if they need you. Try to stay strong. Try to practice radical self-care. Try to go on with your lives and not become addicted to their addiction. I know it's not easy, but it's necessary. For both you and your loved one.

    Big hugs to both of you.
  • This is new for me but I'm in between stages. I'm angry because of what my boyfriend did to get high and drunk. Things he did when he was on a binge like selling tv and ps4. Things that were sentimental. The way he discarded me. I feel like I should've known by the changes of behavior. What if we talked about it instead of me being so angry. Did my words cause it to spiral more? Just trying to get a grip on this plus work, be a mother, and be strong. Definitely overwhelming.
  • @Dfenner78 it's understandable to feel angry about that... it's NOT ok.

    addicts sometimes blame others for their using habits or relapses..ultimately, using is their choice...and actually any action (selling things) is their choice.. try not to feel as if YOU did something wrong...

    i do hope you both can sit and talk about the big picture here. you do have a lot of responsibilities, being a mom, working, etc... you don't want to have to feel you have to "caretake" a grown man.
  • @Dfenner78... It's okay to feel angry. That is your right. But I've learned over the years that being angry--especially if you let that anger manifest itself in yelling at your loved one--usually only makes things worse. As hard as it may be, using love, compassion, and empathy usually works best when dealing with an addicted loved one. Anger only breeds more anger, and it can drive a wedge between you and your boyfriend.

    We're here for you anytime you need us.
  • Hi, im new and just joined. Ive been reading some of the discussions and its been kinda helping me because im with an addict who just relapsed after 2 years.
    My boyfriend had been on heroin when we first met, and i was with him as we got him detoxed and past the withdrawal stage. he hadnt used in 2 years, but had a death in the family in February, and hasnt taken it well at all. hes also and alcoholic, which i can handle better than his drug use. he finally told me he relapsed about a month ago as of wednesday. which coming to me and telling me is a good sign right? i think in these 2 days ive finally hit the crying and pain part of this, after having mixed emotions all day yesterday. i already have a therapist set up for me prior to finding out about his relapse, and he says he doesnt want to be a slave to it anymore and will get help while i am helping myself. and watching him detox really scared me bith times now. and he knows this, im just not sure now how to move forward and be supportive for him with out feeling so disappointed and upset.
  • @asherrae135 hi there. welcome! glad you are reading around and gaining insight from some posts.

    it is good that he told you... openness and honesty are valuable and he feels safe to tell you. that's good.

    great that you're going to start counseling. it's not easy being with someone who struggles with addiction... it can be scary and frustrating and a roller coaster ride, so yeah, loved ones need some help too... and counseling is a great way for you to focus on your journey and learn how to best support him on his journey.

    i'm finding the book "beyond addiction" to be really good in terms of learning how to best support loved ones who struggle. there's also a 20 minute guide that is helpful:

    i'm sure he wants to stay on the sober/clean path... and sounds like he's willing to do some work to get there...that's encouraging!

    remember change doesn't happen overnight and ambivalence is a normal part of change... you ever been addicted to something and went back and forth in trying to quit? even something like junk food that can be so addictive... we want to cut it out or manage it, and we have days when we're like "oh, yeah, i got this" and then days where we cave. i know it's not the same...but my point is that change takes time and there are ups and downs.... when you can "hold space" for him in his journey toward change, while keeping focus on YOU and your path, there may be less fear/anger/confusion on your part...

    make sense?
  • yes it makes sense, i know in my head that he needs space and time. but my first reaction is to ask 100 questions, and hell talk to me but still being in the detox/depressed stage that he relapsed i know he needs space. and im still struggling with how i feel about it and its not helping him. but he doesnt want me to leave (as in the house) when hes not feeling well. and it breaks my heart seeing and hearing him like that. we dont have kids, but were planning on trying in the future. he says that our kid would help him stay away from the drug, give him something to live for. his background was a mess growing up, and he was raised by addicts. he doesnt want to end up like them, but here we are now. i need to be strong for us both, but its hard.
  • @asherrae135... Welcome to the community. I'm sorry you're dealing with your boyfriend's relapse, but I'm glad you found us and reached out. I'm also happy that you're going to see a counselor. When someone we love is struggling with addiction, we all have to work on our own recovery. So you doing something to help yourself is a great thing.

    Dominica has given you some excellent advice, too. Definitely check out the Beyond Addiction book and its companion 20 Minute Guide. They are both great resources.

    We're here for you. Whether you need help, support, advice, or just a place to vent, you can come back anytime and lean on us. In the meantime, I'm sending you lots of love, light, and hope. Always remember: YOUR life matters, too.
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