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August 31, 2020 Beyond The Dash

Is it Okay to Drink During Bereavement?

When to avoid, and when to indulge

Is it Okay to Drink During Bereavement?
Depending on your past relationship with alcohol, drinking after a death has occurred can be a relief. It can also be a slippery slope to alcohol abuse. (Shutterstock)

Alcohol has a long history in the memorialization of those we have lost. From 'pouring one out' in honor of a friend, to toasting their life at a funeral reception, there are many reasons people drink when death has occurred. 

Alcoholism often occurs when people begin to use alcohol as a coping mechanism. Feelings and situations that are uncomfortable or painful are numbed through the use of alcohol. In folks with a healthy relationship with alcohol, one of the most prevalent triggers of overuse and addiction is the loss of a loved one. 

For most people, drinking during times of bereavement is a welcome relief from sorrow. However, it's important to monitor this activity during grief. How much alcohol is okay, and how much is too much? These questions worry mourners, because the mix of drink and strong emotions can be a slippery slope. 

Know your past relationship with substances

Discussing alcohol on a broad level is difficult, as everyone has a different relationship with alcohol. Unless you are an alcoholic, allergic to alcohol or sober, it's wise to seek a safe and moderate relationship with liquor. For those who've noticed an uptick in the amount of alcohol being consumed since the loss of a loved one, it might mean reducing consumption of alcohol. For others, finding a balance could mean relaxing about having a drink once in awhile. 

If you are concerned about your alcohol use, or worry that it might have become abuse or addiction, this article might not be for you. It might be worth getting help for substance or emotional issues by seeking out a qualified counselor, or by talking to your doctor. 

Finding a balance

Determining an appropriate level of imbibement for you depends not only on the amount of alcohol you consume, but also your reaction to the amount that you do consume. It's an even more slippery slope if you're in a state of heightened emotion.

That said, if you don't have any previous issues with alcohol abuse, and you're worried about drinking even moderately during bereavement, it's okay to have a glass of wine or two. It's fair to be more cautious than usual, so remember to keep your wits about you and use common sense. Just because you are grieving does not mean you have to avoid alcohol entirely. It does mean, however, that you should keep an eye on your consumptions. 

Watch for patterns around your drinking. Moderation is great, but if unhealthy patterns begin to emerge, it might be cause for concern. If in doubt, see a counselor and try to abstain from alcohol. Grief is a huge emotional upheaval to all who experience the death of someone close to them. Developing an issue with alcohol ends up only making the process more difficult in the long term.

When to avoid alcohol entirely

Avoid drinking if consuming alcohol causes you to:

  • Become angry, aggressive or violent.

  • Become suicidal.

  • Become more depressed.

  • Insult others.

  • Drink too much.

  • Make drastic or irrational decisions that you wouldn't make while sober. 

  • Cry uncontrollably.

  • Lie about or hide your alcohol consumption.

These behaviors indicate a loss of control over emotions, and adding alcohol only fuels the fire. Even though you're grieving, you need to be able to support those around you, take care of yourself and maintain a productive life. 

The takeaway

For those who can drink alcohol in moderation, drinking can be relaxing and enjoyable. There's no rules that say you can't drink at all when someone passes. There's also no rule that says you should. It's up to you to be responsible for your own emotional and physical well being—it's up to you to decide what your relationship with alcohol should look like during bereavement.

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