How to Stay Sober Through a Death in the Family

How to Stay Sober Through a Death in the Family

By In Relapse Prevention, Tools for Recovery
Posted July 18, 2017

The death of a loved one is an extremely difficult time for anyone. But when you’re recovering from addiction, this intense pain can threaten the sobriety you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

It’s normal to want to escape from feelings of grief. For recovering addicts, this may lead to an impulse to drink or do drugs.

Remember that if you give in to the urge to use, the grief will still remain once the effects of the drugs or alcohol have faded, and you’ll also have destroyed your carefully maintained sobriety. There are other, healthier ways to navigate your grief.

Here are a few tips to help you stay sober through a death in the family.

Don’t Grieve Alone

The sense of loneliness you’re feeling as you grieve a loved one can be a trigger for relapse, so spend time sharing your feelings with family members and close friends.

Even if you don’t feel like talking, try going for a walk or grabbing a coffee with a supportive friend or family member. Anything that can get you up, dressed, and connecting with another person will help.

Of course, make sure that the people you’re spending your time with are also sober. It’s very important to avoid anyone that may negatively influence you, especially during this emotionally vulnerable time.

Stick to Your Program

Even if the last thing you want to do is go to a 12-step meeting, it’s crucial to continue following your program as you grieve. In fact, it’s an even better idea to increase meeting attendance.

It’s likely that fellow recovering addicts have been through the same situation and can be strong sources of support. Be open about your feelings, and share honestly any urges you may have.

If you have a sponsor or are in touch with an addiction counselor, lean on these resources as well. Talk through your feelings, share your fears, and be receptive to advice and support.

Find a Creative Outlet

Person writing in diary

Creatively expressing your emotions can give you a healthy outlet and help you maintain your sobriety.

Paint, write poems, journal, make a scrapbook, play an instrument, or write a song. Anything you can do that helps you express your emotions in a positive way can be tremendously helpful.

Creative expression also reduces stress and feelings of anxiety, so these activities can help you calm your thoughts and find some semblance of peace.

Help Others

Helping others can give you a sense of purpose and take your mind off of negative urges. Offer to help with arrangements, pick up relatives at the airport, or simply lend support to other affected family members and friends.

If the person is particularly close to you, like a parent, you may already be tasked with many of the responsibilities associated with a death in the family. If this is the case, be sure to split your responsibilities into small, manageable tasks.

It’s also important that you ask for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. You don’t have to do everything alone, and you shouldn’t feel like you’re burdening anyone by requesting support.

Engage in Positive Activities

Person Running through Woods

If you spend your time lying on the couch or in bed, you’re likely to find yourself dwelling on negative thoughts and experiencing a desire to turn to your old coping mechanisms.

Instead, try keeping busy with positive and healthy activities. Exercise lightly, go for a walk with your dog, watch a favorite movie, or listen to music. It’s also a great idea to ask a supportive companion to engage in these activities with you.


Allow yourself to fully feel your grief, and don’t bottle it up. Talk openly with others, including fellow recovering addicts at your 12-step meetings.

Get up, get moving, and connect with supportive people. Lend your help and support to family members and friends who are grieving as well.

Eat healthy, sleep plenty, and exercise regularly.

Try to honor your loved one by living a healthy, happy, and sober life. If you take it one day a time, stay busy, and surround yourself with a network of support, you can get through the death of a loved one with your sobriety intact.

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