One of the most popular TV tropes involves characters “drowning their sorrows” after a loss. Once the funeral is over, the scene fades in on our hero, who downs multiple glasses of whiskey or wine. This stereotype does have roots in reality, and it presents a real danger for people who are already vulnerable. Today, we’ll answer the age-old question: Does alcohol make grief worse?
The Relationship Between Grief and Alcohol Abuse
At some point, everyone experiences the loss of a loved one. Adverse life events, like the death of someone close to us, are associated with negative health effects. They also increase our vulnerability to substance use disorders.
In 2009, The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse published a survey of clinical case histories among admissions for an alcohol treatment center. The researchers looked at fifty consecutive admissions and found that of these, twelve people were dealing with grief and loss. It was determined that grief impacted patterns of alcohol consumption in many ways, and conversely, alcohol consumption changed how participants processed grief.
How does alcohol affect the way we mourn? It’s a matter of avoidance.
Many people turn to drinking in an effort to take their minds off of the present moment. However, when this is done, individuals aren’t able to unpack their feelings, process them, and move on. Using alcohol in this way can prolong the grieving process and catalyze a serious substance use disorder. Unfortunately, research shows that this outcome is all too common.
Women Experiencing Grief and Alcohol Dependence
A pilot study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence compared widows and non-widows of similar ages, all of whom were admitted to an alcohol treatment program. The researchers found that alcoholism wasn’t as common in the family histories of widowed clients. This means that their substance use disorders likely had other, non-genetic explanations.
It was determined that among widows, the participants’ late husbands were more likely to have had an alcohol problem. According to the study, the widows of alcoholics, those with unresolved marital conflicts, and those who are socially isolated are most vulnerable to “abnormal grief responses.”
Older Men Who Are Recently Widowed
According to a study in The Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, hazardous alcohol consumption is a frequent occurrence among older men who have recently lost their spouses. The numbers far exceeded those in the married control group. Interestingly, the researchers attributed this to a loss of spousal care and control, not the widowers’ mental state. Regardless of the catalyst, they did recommend that this group be targeted for preventative care in the future.
How Depressants Affect the Brain
Alcohol is a depressant. This means that it works to slow the central nervous system, negatively affecting one’s mental faculties. It only takes five minutes for alcohol to pass through the blood-brain barrier, and ten minutes for someone to feel its effects. In this time, drinking disrupts the behavior of neurotransmitters and slows the brain’s processing abilities.
People under the influence of alcohol are often confused and unable to properly reason through their feelings. They may struggle to concentrate, recall memories, or even speak coherently. If they feel particularly uninhibited, those who have consumed alcohol may take risks like getting behind the wheel – a choice that can have serious consequences.
Over time, heavy drinking begins to permanently alter the brain. It can increase the risk of mental illness. A high level of alcohol consumption is associated with depression symptoms, and sudden cessation can cause psychosis among certain individuals. Drinking also increases the risk of self-harm and suicide.
Eventually, alcohol abuse can lead to serious health consequences like Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, also known as “wet brain.” This condition is characterized by amnesia, severe confusion, vision problems, and loss of coordination. While Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome only occurs in a small percentage of cases, many people with alcohol use disorder will develop precursors to this condition, such as a thiamine (vitamin B-1) deficiency.
There is hope for those who seek recovery. With proper treatment, it is possible to overcome alcohol use disorder, reverse many of its effects, and properly process one’s grief.
Treatment for Alcoholism in Austin, Texas
If you’re struggling to deal with a recent loss, you’re not alone. Grief can be overwhelming, and it’s common to seek out unhealthy coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, alcohol does make grief worse. If you’ve decided that your drinking is doing more harm than good, recovery is just a phone call away.
At The Last Resort Recovery, we provide evidence-based treatment for men dealing with alcohol use disorder. Our experts will guide you through a combination of one-on-one, group, and experiential therapies. We believe that these methods create a safe environment for you to identify, experience, and process all of the emotions brought on by grief. At the same time, you’ll be equipped with the tools you need to conquer your alcohol dependence.
If you’re ready to learn more about The Last Resort Recovery, contact us today. We look forward to speaking with you.