What Is Pathological Grief Disorder?

The grief process looks a little different for everyone. There is no timetable that you can put on it. Individual reactions to grief manifest in many ways. It took me many years to get over my brother’s tragic death. It crippled every aspect of my life and had me in a cycle of depression that was very difficult to get out of.

Luckily, I discovered Emerald Isle Health and Recovery Center. Not only are they great at dealing with addiction, but they also have intense mental health treatment programs that can help you regain your life.

How does Complex Grief Arise?

Typically, after the loss of a loved one or some other traumatic event, we all go through a standard grief process. You go through a lot of shock and sadness, and the overall acceptance of death can be extremely difficult to comprehend. What are the signs of complex grief disorder?

Complex grief disorder is generally described as a prolonged grieving process that does not get better with time. We’ve all heard the term “It gets better with time.” Sometimes this can be true, but it can actually be the opposite for a lot of people dealing with grief.

Types of Pathological Grief Disorder

To understand pathological grief, we have to understand there are different phases and types. The types of pathological grief include chronic, inhibited, delayed grief, and atypical grief. I personally struggled with delayed grief. When my brother passed away tragically, I grieved very intensely for the first several weeks.

It became completely exhausting. I could not deal with the fact that my brother was gone, and it didn’t take much for me to spiral into fits of crying and extreme distress. Nothing could cheer me up.

Immediate Placement in Drug Rehab

After about a month of this, I just wanted to get past it. It was draining my dry to be dealing with such intense sadness at all hours. I ultimately moved away from my family for college, and tried to put it in the back of my mind. I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I didn’t bring it up or properly deal with it.

It wasn’t until about a year later that the grief came pouring back out in a very intense way. This is one of the big risk factors for pathological grief disorders. You have to work through your grief during that initial period of shock in order to be better set up to get through it.

The Link Between Complex Grief vs. Depression

They are different disorders, but one can certainly affect the other. My complex grief gave way to a long-term depression that was difficult to climb out of. It took me almost a decade to finally get to a point of peace with the whole thing. Identifying complicated grief isn’t too difficult. The signs are all there.

Even if you try to hide your despair, the symptoms are very obvious. It’s much like falling into a depression. The warning signs are hard to avoid. Lack of sleep, loss of appetite, weight loss, lack of interest in everyday activities, these symptoms fall into both categories.


Complex Grief and Substance Abuse: Dual Diagnosis

Oftentimes, grief can be a trigger for drug use. This is especially true if you are at-risk for drug abuse already. A lot of people in recovery can be set back by a personal loss and struggling with grief. This happened to me personally. I always had issues with alcohol, but my alcohol abuse became much more frequent and widespread after my brother died.

My brother was a drinker and dabbled in drugs as well, so it was common for both of us to use drugs and alcohol together. At his funeral, everyone was drinking his favorite beer and raising toast after toast. Being drunk at his funeral was difficult and probably didn’t do me much good.

Better Ways of Coping with a Grief Disorder

The coping mechanisms for grief disorders generally include alcohol and drug use. My alcoholism got worse and worse and didn’t put me in a very supportive mode. We all needed a certain amount of support after he died, specifically my parents. It was hard for me to be there for them because I could barely be there for myself.

It took recovery through a residential mental health facility before I could even begin to think about supporting anyone else. The bereavement and grieving process was all-consuming for me.

How are Grief Disorders Diagnosed?

Getting the correct diagnosis for pathological grief disorders can give you a good place to start in order to work through your issues. At Emerald Isle, I was forced to face both my addiction and my grief in a very upfront manner. It was scary for me to open myself up like that and be put on display. I had a lot of fear of being judged. The people at Emerald Isle were amazing and didn’t judge me for one second.

I found a good foundation for holistic health at Emerald Isle and couldn’t be happier. I didn’t want to get on a bunch of antidepressants, so learning about all the holistic treatment options that are out there gave me a lot of comfort while still trying to work through my grief.

How is Pathological and Complex Grief Treated?

Treating grief is a personal process that is defined by what the person in question needs. We all have a different process. There are some populations at risk for grief disorders. If you are prone to depression and anxiety, you may be more at risk for developing pathological grief disorder. Substance abuse is another big trigger. I had dealt with both of these things before my brother died, so when I had to deal with his untimely passing, all of these things came back into my life full force.

Immediate Placement in Drug Rehab

Complex Grief vs Trauma Disorders

There is definitely a relationship between complex grief and other trauma disorders. I developed PTSD as a result of my brother’s death. He died in a dirt bike accident which I was present for. I didn’t see the actual accident, but I did see the aftermath. I saw him lying in the road bloody and clinging to life. This image is burnt into my mind and will never completely leave me. The frozen memory will sometimes flash in front of me at random moments. I can be in the middle of a conversation and have a stark flashback to that awful night.

I tried to ignore this impulse as much as I could. Drugs and alcohol helped somewhat. All of the self-medication I did worked for a while, but it never completely blocked out the events of that evening. For someone like me, it took a lot of therapy to pull through.

The PTSD and Grief Connection

My PTSD was ultimately making my drinking worse, and vice versa. One thing was feeding the other. This is why dual diagnosis programs are so vital to the recovery process. Dual diagnosis refers is a form of treatment where you try to work through all of your issues simultaneously.

By tackling both my PTSD and drinking head-on, I was able to learn about what made me tick. I finally realized that both of these things were very much linked, and needed to be addressed at the same time. This approach may not work for everyone, but it has a very high success rate. I can’t speak for anybody else, but I know for a fact that dual diagnosis can be very beneficial if you are open to it. All of the issues that we deal with internally can drive and feed off of each other. It’s important to get everything straightened out.

Childhood Trauma and Complex Grief Disorders


Childhood trauma, ACE’s, and grief disorders can all impact each other negatively. ACE’s refer to adverse childhood experiences. A lot of people who become addicts had some form of trauma in their early life. This is also true for grief disorders. Your childhood and your early life experiences often shape the person you become as an adult. If you know nothing but pain and suffering as a child, you are going to carry that for the rest of your life.

The Kubler-Ross Model of Grieving

Throughout this process, it’s important to understand the Kubler-Ross model of the five stages of grief. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was a psychiatrist and author who was fundamental in developing our understanding of grief and sadness. The Kubler-Ross model has become a staple in modern-day psychiatry. The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The stages of grief are an absolute whirlwind that can really distort and impact your daily life. It’s hard to understand how it works or comprehend grief when you are in it.

Discover the Healing Power of Emerald Isle Health & Recovery

There is something powerful to be said about educating yourself on the grief process and what it entails. We can all benefit from learning a little bit about the acceptance of death and how to properly cope with traumatic experiences.

Even if you haven’t had it happen to you, it may give you a better understanding of someone who is suffering from pathological grief. None of us get through life without experiencing loss. Sooner or later, it’s vital to your happiness to learn how to cope with life’s unfortunate events.

If you, or someone you love, could use assistance in getting through a time of grieving, with or without substance use or drinking posing a problem, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the people of Emerald Isle. The experience I had there was truly life-changing, and their staff are second to none. Give yourself a break, and call now.

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