Losing A Spouse and Finding Comfort in Alcohol

Upset couple having an argument

Losing A Spouse and Finding Comfort in Alcohol

Losing a loved one is difficult. Almost more difficult than words can say. Learning to cope with the loss of your life partner is something that requires support, time, and patience.

Grief and Depression

Often, after losing a spouse, the surviving widow or widower will experience significant grief which can lead to a deep depression. In order to help those grieving, it is good to know the signs and symptoms of depression.

They include:

  • Man struggling to deal with losing a spouseThoughts of being worthless or hopeless
  • Lack of appetite
  • Reduced memory
  • Poor hygiene
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Mood changes
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Difficulty in performing day-to-day activities
  • Extreme weight loss

Depression can also include skipping or stopping medications as well as missing or skipping doctors appointments or beginning self-harm behaviors over the loss of a spouse [1].

Approximately one in five individuals will develop major depression or clinical depression after the death of a spouse. Those people who are at highest risk for depression are those with little or no support system of extended family or friends, those who have previously had issues with alcohol or drug use, or those who have had significant life stressors [1].

Coping With Loss

It can be challenging to cope with life after a loved one dies. You will experience bereavement and need time to mourn. Understand that mourning is the natural process that a person goes through after losing a mate [2].

How one mourns is personal. There are different ways you may show your sorrow. There is no single way to grieve. It is unique, and it can last months or years. The same can be said about how one copes with the grieving.

Types of Grief

Grief is how we show our loss. It can be expressed physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Crying, anger and depression are common in the grieving process.

People need to express their grief and mourn the loss of a loved one. People dealing with grief may try to numb their emotions in any way possible. Avoiding the grieving process can create numerous problems.

Avoidance can lead to chronic mental health issues such as substance abuse, other addictions or other emotional illnesses. Other individuals may experience physical health conditions such as gastrointestinal distress, insomnia, or loss of energy due to delayed grief [2].

Alcohol and Grief

Woman Finding Comfort in AlcoholOften, people will do almost anything to avoid the pain of losing a spouse. The thought of living life without your lifelong partner can be unbearable. During this time of sorrow, it can be easy to turn to alcohol to numb the pain of the loss.

Bereaved men tend to grieve more through the use or abuse of alcohol than women in the first year, even more so after the second year of losing their spouse [3].

Several research studies have also shown that the death of a spouse is a severe emotional burden which can increase the risk of physical and mental disorders [3].

Tips for Grieving a Loved One

If you have lost a loved one, remember that feeling and experiencing these emotions is better than avoiding them. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to grieve.

Be patient with yourself and the grieving process as a whole. It will take time. Move through each day as best you can and remember that there is no timeline for grief but it will get better.

Try not to compare yourself to someone else’s grief or loss. Your experience is yours, and it is different from anyone else’s. Acknowledge your feelings. Let yourself express how you are feeling about the process, before, during, and after the death of your spouse.

Gather support from others. Join a local support group through a funeral home, your church, or another group. Your friends or family are also excellent resources.

Girl with her head in her handsYou can also check out hospitals which have local access to bereavement centers and counselors if needed. Use the resources around you so you can connect with others. It helps to know that you are not alone and being with other people who get what you are going through is extremely helpful.

Try to keep things in your life as normal as possible. Do not make any major life decisions for the first year. It will be challenging to learn to cope, manage, and make decisions through the first year without your spouse.

Focus on taking care of yourself. This is absolutely necessary for the first year. Practice self-care. Get out and do things that you enjoy. Spend time with your friends and family.

Take a new class or hobby. Get proper rest, eat healthily, and move your body. Practice self-compassion, as well. Forgive yourself for the things you did or did not do and for the things did or did not say when your spouse was alive.

Prepare for the Firsts

The first year is challenging. Holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries will come and go. Strong emotions may emerge, and it may feel like you are grieving all over again each time a milestone hits.

Decide if you want to keep certain traditions or create new ones as these firsts come around. If you are able, plan out in advance what you would want to do, who you would want to be with, and where you would want to go.

Remember that the first year is unique, but as time moves on, it will get better. Your grief, sadness, anger, etc. will change and lessen.

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). Libby has been practicing in the field of eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety and other comorbid issues in various agencies. Libby has previously worked as a contractor for the United States Air Force Domestic Violence Program, Saint Louis University Student Health and Counseling, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Eating Disorders Program, and has been in Private Practice.
Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is an Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.


[1] Symptoms of major depression and complicated grief. (n.d.). Retrieved January 30, 2018, from https://www.cancer.org/treatment/end-of-life-care/grief-and-loss/depression-and-complicated-grief.html
[2] Coping with Loss: Bereavement and Grief. (2015, May 01). Retrieved January 30, 2018, from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/coping-loss-bereavement-and-grief
[3] Pilling, J., Thege, B. K., Demetrovics, Z., & Kopp, M. S. (2012). Alcohol use in the first three years of bereavement: a national representative survey. Retrieved January 30, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3286419/

The opinions and views of our guest contributors, are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on June 19, 2018

Reviewed on June 19, 2018 by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Published on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.