Drinking During Times of Grief

“What would you do if I died? Would you fly out for my funeral? Get too drunk at my wake? Would you make a scene then? Climb in and try to resuscitate me?”

—La Dispute, First Reactions After Falling Through the Ice

At the beginning of this year, my father’s older brother passed away at the age of 49.  As a way of coping, my father went through a short period of drinking heavier than usual.  That is when I started to wonder other ways people cope during times of loss.  I suspect that alcohol use is a popular method.  I got this idea from not only my father’s behavior, but from the song as well.  As quoted above in La Dispute’s song, the funeral goer copes with the loss of his friend by also drinking an excess amount of alcohol.  To test the validity of the claim being made, results measuring grief after parents losing a child, children losing a parent, and grandparents losing a grandchild were studied.

The study involving the loss of a child examined factors associated with grief and depression.  The levels of grief and/or depression depended on whether the death was sudden or anticipated as well as whether the death was a stillbirth of infant death.  As expected, the greater the amount of grief felt, the more the bereaved partook in drinking alcohol.  Subsequently, this “self-medicating” strategy also increased the already present levels of depression.

When discussing how the loss of a parent affects a child, several of the same factors were in play.  Like parents experiencing the loss of a child, children going through the event of losing a parent experienced higher rates of depression and alcohol/substance abuse than those with living parents.  Somewhat surprising, female rates of depression and alcohol/substance abuse were higher than male.

Often referred to as the “forgotten grievers,” grandparents—if the child’s primary caregiver—go through just as difficult a time handling the loss of their grandchild as a parent would their child.  One slight difference though would be the fact that compared to the first two studies, an increase in alcohol and/or substance abuse was not as big a concern.

Somewhat surprising, consistent outcomes where found in the three reports studying levels of depression and grief after the loss of a loved one.  The first would have to be the lack of diversity; caucasian participants were the focus of each study.  Second, female vs. male emotional display; females were more likely to confide in others for support and seek help, while males tended to keep to themselves and focus their energy on their professional work.

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