The 5 Stages of Grief and Addiction

The 5 Stages of Grief and Addiction – The 5 stages of grief were first identified by psychiatrist Elisabeth in 1969, as published in her book On Death and Dying. She contended that people suffering from a terminal illness, as well as those who experience the death of a loved one, go through different stages of emotions until they can reach a resolution.

The 5 stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Dr. Kübler-Ross later said that these emotions did not necessarily have to occur in a linear fashion, but rather were the emotions most commonly encountered during periods of grief.

The 5 Stages of Grief in Brief

Denial is characterized by the person’s outright objection or non-acceptance to the situation and attempts to find convincing evidence that it’s not true.

Anger can be directed at other individuals, the person himself, god, or circumstances contributing to the situation.

Bargaining occurs when the person begins to make changes in a last ditch effort to gain control over the event causing the grief.

Depression and sadness start to set in as the person begins to realize that bargaining is not enough to alter reality.

Acceptance is often the last stage, as the person accepts reality, reaches an emotional balance, and begins to take actions that reflect this acknowledgment.

Of course, not everyone goes through every stage, and people can sometimes revert to previous stages. The concept of the five stages of grief is not perfect but does offer a model that can be beneficial to those who experience events that result in extreme sadness.

How Addiction Applies To The 5 Stages of Grief


Denial is often the first sign that there is a serious problem. Yes, people deny things because sometimes, they aren’t true. But often denial occurs because the question of addiction has already been put forth – and that question is usually only asked in seriousness when there is some evidential basis for the inquiry.

Denial occurs when either the addict, alcoholic, or person close to them refuses to believe that the problem exists, or that it is serious enough to warrant concern. It’s common for persons close to the individual to move beyond denial much sooner than the person who is addicted.


Anger begins to manifest as the person with an addiction starts to realize that there is, indeed, a problem. The addict or alcoholic may be angry that he can no longer use the substance, or is unable to use a substance, such as alcohol, like other “normal people.”

And sometimes, the anger serves as a mask for fear that he or she may be unable to quit using despite the acknowledge that it needs to happen.

Interestingly, anger is often directed internally at the addict or alcoholic herself or at others who try to intervene, rather than the substance or the people who are supplying the substance.


Bargaining, in this case, occurs as the addict is trying to mitigate the fears of someone else or to avoid conflict or legal trouble. For example, he may make promises to stop using in order to receive help. She may begin seeking treatment as a way of avoiding punitive consequences. Or, the addict begins bargaining with themselves as a way to try to cut back on substance use rather than quit.

During this stage, the addict is unwilling to fully change or accept consequences and instead tries to negotiate with themselves and others as an attempt to merely mitigate symptoms of the problem rather than solve it. In other words, a person in this stage just wants the fallout from the addiction to go away using minimal effort.


Depression can occur as the addict or alcoholic finally realizes that they need to live without their substance of choice or suffer from their addiction for the rest of their life.

This may co-occur with the withdrawal stage (which in of itself may cause depression) as the person begins to feel the absence of the drug and also reflects on the damage done to himself and others.


Acceptance is not a mere admission there is a problem – this can be recognized at a much earlier stage, such as during anger or bargaining. Rather, acceptance is when the addict or alcoholic agrees to take action toward recovery. This stage is focused on goals, decision-making, and the identification of solutions which can help the person achieve sobriety.

The 5 Stages of Grief Trajectory

As noted, these stages can be skipped or encountered more than once. Some addicts will never reach acceptance and will continue to succumb to the adverse effects of addiction until they die.

However, by identifying where the substance abuser and her loved ones are on this spectrum, people can benefit from a greater understanding of the process, their emotions, and the emotions of others.

For example, rather than progressing, a person who is bargaining and failing to cover any ground may revert to anger.

People who get treatment and recover with acceptance may encounter future stress that will encourage them to bargain – for example, “I can have just one drink.”

And addiction itself often keeps people from dealing with loss and trauma. While using, a person may experience the death of another close to them, have medical issues associated with the addiction, or may suffer the loss of a significant relationship.

Long-term addictions often do not allow the person to fully come to terms with these circumstances. Becoming sober may mean that a lot of these demons fly to the surface as if they just occurred. For this reason, it may be difficult for those in recovery to deal with losses incurred years ago as their emotional and mental state returns to normal.

Treatment for Addiction

Recovery is a personal transformation that evolves in stages. From the early days of rehab to sober housing and aftercare, our programs offer a wide array of integrated services to meet the treatment and support system needs of our patients. These include:

Our center provides a network of treatment programs that help our patients transition smoothly through each phase of recovery. We treat addiction to all types of psychoactive substances, including alcohol, opioids, heroin, benzodiazepines, cocaine, and meth.

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment is one of the critical components of care at our center and allows patients to focus on the healing and recovery process while living on-site and away from the distractions of daily life.

Our comprehensive inpatient treatment program includes services such as the following:

  • Full medical, mental, and social evaluation
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy sessions
  • Medication management
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Fitness therapy
  • Introduction to 12-step support groups
  • Integrative and experiential therapies
  • Life skills classes
  • Relapse prevention planning

Our inpatient services include 24-7 supervision and care administered by a team of health and addiction experts, such as physicians, psychiatrists, counselors, nurses, and more.

Overall, inpatient treatment provides the optimal level of support for clients who can benefit from the structure and stability of around-the-clock monitoring.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP)

Intensive outpatient treatment offers clients more flexibility and autonomy and is a great option for those who have completed residential treatment and would like to take advantage of longer-term therapy and support while transitioning back to daily life.

IOP patients are free to live at a private residence or sober living environment while continuing to visit the center several times per week and engage in ongoing treatment, counseling, and support groups.

IOP offers many of the services included in inpatient treatment programs, such as:

  • Individual and group therapy
  • Family counseling
  • Medication management
  • Relapse prevention training
  • Life skills training
  • Case management
  • Access to 12-step meetings


Rehab treatment is just the beginning of the addiction healing process, and many clients continue to work intensively on their recovery during the aftercare stage. Our center provides aftercare planning services that ensure clients have access to external resources once rehab treatment has been completed, such as psychiatrists, counselors, and support groups.

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