How Substance Use Disorders Relate to Sadness, Grief, and Depression

May 8, 2023

Relapse triggers, Sadness, Grief, Depression, Mental health care

While we hesitate to talk about emotions in terms of “positive” or “negative” feelings, we do acknowledge that some mind states can be particularly problematic for those in recovery from a substance use disorder. Emotions or states of mind that a person would rather not be experiencing can linger—and when they do, they can make a return to drugs or alcohol seem like a quick and easy escape. 

Let’s take a look at the ways to manage sadness, grief, and depression so that your recovery is not upended.

Sadness is Normal. It is also Temporary.

We all feel sad from time to time. Sadness is a natural response to any number of situations we encounter in our lives. You might feel sad when something you were hoping for or working toward doesn’t come to pass. You might feel sad when someone close to you moves away. Heck, you might feel sad because it is raining.

When you feel sad—no matter the reason—it can be tempting to look for a quick way to turn the emotion around. That is why sadness can be problematic for a person in recovery. When you are sad, you might decide drugs or alcohol could give you a boost.

That, of course, is the wrong way to address sadness. Instead of turning back to one substance or another, it is important to remind yourself that sadness is a natural and appropriate emotion—and it won’t last forever. Letting yourself feel the emotion without judgment—one of the key aspects of mindfulness practice—is a good approach.

That said, you can, of course, try a variety of things to alleviate sadness more quickly. Playing your favorite music, getting some exercise, or chatting with a friend are all good strategies for managing the way you feel.

Grief is Challenging. Be Kind to Yourself.

When we lose someone we love, it can feel as though our entire life will fall apart. Grief is a kind of amplified sadness—and it can feel as though it will never abate. After all, the underlying cause of grief is permanent, and the ways in which that grief manifests can be unpredictable.

Given all of that, it makes sense that grief can be a serious threat to your sobriety—so you need some strategies for managing this powerful emotion.

First and foremost, it is important to remember that you are not alone in feeling grief. It is a universal experience, and that means that you can be confident others will understand what you are going through. Finding someone—a friend, a family member, a therapist—to talk with about your loss and your grief can be extremely helpful.

It can also be helpful to use your loss as a source of inspiration. Perhaps the person you lost had a cause that was important to them or a goal they didn’t achieve before they passed. Engaging with that cause or goal is a wonderful way to honor the person you have lost, and doing so can help alleviate feelings of grief.

Being kind to yourself is also a good strategy. You will experience grief in your own way—and you will manage it in your own way as well. As long as you rely on your resilience—and not on drugs or alcohol—you will be okay.

Depression is a Disorder. You Can Get Help.

While it is quite common to hear someone say they feel depressed, much of the time they really mean they feel sad. Depression in all its various forms is a mental health disorder, and while one of its symptoms might be a persistent sense of sadness, it is distinct from the emotion itself.

If you find that you simply cannot shake a sense of sadness over a week-long period, or if you find that you no longer take any pleasure in activities you used to enjoy, or if you find you are having trouble sleeping at night while feeling sleepy during the day, you may be suffering from depression

To protect your sobriety—and to regain your quality of life—it is important to get treatment for depression. Ideally, that treatment will include both medication (considered with care given your substance use disorder) and talk therapy. The key is to seek out help as soon as you suspect you might be dealing with a mental health disorder so that you can manage it effectively without suffering a relapse.

At Farley Center, We Are Always Happy to Help

If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol, the time to get help is right away. And the experienced and compassionate staff of Farley Center in Williamsburg, VA, can provide that help. We offer medically supervised detoxification, a rehabilitation program that includes treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders like depression, and a continuum of care that provides support and resources as your recovery gets underway. When you are ready to reclaim your sobriety, we would be happy to help.