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Grief reactions to drug loss: a grounded theory approach




Haralson, David, author
Matheson, Jenn, advisor
Aberle, Jen, committee member
Miller, Lisa, committee member

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Grief responses have generally been associated with death-related losses. However, there is growing research that suggests that individuals create attachments with non-human objects such as alcohol or other drugs. Few studies have addressed feelings of loss associated with drugs. In this study, we interviewed 10 individuals who were at early stages of recovering from substance misuse. While we primarily used a grounded theory approach to analyze the data, we also used attachment theory, theory of continuing bonds, and Worden's tasks of grief as guiding frameworks for our analysis. We found that participants' relationship with drugs tended to fluctuate over time and that their grief experiences varied depending on what stage of the relationship they were in with their drug of choice. All participants in this study reported having a relationship with the drug and experiencing physical, emotional, cognitive, and relational reactions to separating from the drug that were similar to grief experienced from a death-related loss. At the same time, all participants reported that their grief experiences with drug loss were "different" than their grief experiences with death-related loss. Clinical implications of the results of this study are included in the discussion.


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drug loss
substance abuse


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