The seven stages of grief and addictions

According to American-Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross there are five stages of grief, with some adaptations throughout the years adding a few more steps.


Here we'll look at the seven stages of grief and how they can apply to addiction.


Feeling shocked is a normal stage of hearing about the loss or death of a loved one.

Where addiction is concerned, this loss of the person you once knew can bring about a stage of denial to cope with losing someone to addiction. Shock and denial are coping strategies to deal with the emotional wave happening at the time. This realisation and shock can occur at intervals when trying to process the loss of someone with an addiction.


Denial is a normal stage of grief and offers comfort in a difficult time; however, staying in this stage can create unhealthy coping strategies such as isolation, overeating and undereating. It can be an excellent time to seek support from a therapist.

Staying in denial of a loved one's addiction will inevitably create co-addictive tendencies, covering up for their behaviour, apologising, and never challenging them for fear of the reality you may need to let go of them until they choose recovery.


Moving through anger is a normal stage of grief; this can be challenging to deal with, not wanting to show anger or disappointment towards losing a loved one. 

Anger towards a person with addiction can be a stage that creates change or produces an unhealthy relationship with the self or the other.

Working through this stage can help to have the support of other people, a therapist or a good friend who understands how difficult it is to move forward. Feeling frustrated is a normal stage of grief; there is no control over the loss of a loved one and no control over the loss of someone to addiction.


Bargaining with people or yourself trying to make sense of the situation is a normal process.

Bargaining to let the person with addiction have one more chance to change may produce a cycle of grief from the first stage; this can create trauma and not be a healthy way to attune to another.

This stage can bring feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, depression and anxiety. A helpful way to cope and move forwards can be seeking therapy or having a good support network of friends.


Grief can be a complex process; speaking about the loss with no answers can create despair, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. This is a normal stage whilst dealing with losing a loved one and seeking support and help.


Acceptance can come in the form of knowing there is hope for yourself to get through a difficult time; however you deal with grief is ok to try to maintain a healthy and productive lifestyle that promotes your well-being.

Gaining awareness through speaking to an impartial person, such as a therapist, can bring about significant change to enable a better way forward. Accepting that another's addiction is their responsibility and theirs alone can be difficult to process. Holding on to the thought that you are a human being and that everyone has failings and strengths might bring you comfort.

Processing grief

Processing grief can take a while; there is no right or wrong way, only your way; a therapist can help bring out the creative and nurturing side. Connecting with friends, beginning to follow hobbies, and finding joy again can be a sign that the grief is passing.

Processing the grief around someone with an addiction can create a recognition of the constant cycle, allowing yourself to acknowledge that it can be an emotional process; having a supportive network of friends or working through that with a therapist can make the process easier.

Grieving a person with an addiction can create a repeated cycle through the stages of grief, and finding support from a therapist can be the beginning of change.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Burnley, Lancashire, BB11
Written by Sandra Williams, T.A.Psychotherapist/ supervisor at - The Therapists Chair
Burnley, Lancashire, BB11

I am a Transactional Analysis Psychotherapist in the Burnley area. My background is in NHS health care, youth work and mental health. I work in a relational way, online and face-to-face. Psychotherapy provides an opportunity to gain clarity and understanding to know who you are.

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