5 Stages of Grief

In her internationally best-selling book “On Death and Dying,” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross discusses her 5 stages of grieving. Every one of us at some point in our lives has experienced a loss. Whether it is a great loss like that of a loved one, or a small loss, like a ten-dollar bill. With each loss, we all go through these 5 stages of grieving. The stages can be repeated, they may take hours, days, months, years to transition through, but we all experience the stages at some point after our loss.

I began to think how giving up alcohol is a form of loss. For a long time, we have relied on alcohol to soothe us, to help us loosen up before a social event, to alleviate stress, to fill bored time. After so long, we have become reliant on alcohol. You could call it your friend. You rely on alcohol because it helps you cope with stress, financial issues, job loss, marital problems. Anytime someone decides to give up drinking, the 5 stages of grieving come into play. What I found most interesting, though, is the 3rd stage can be the longest and hardest. First, let’s cover what all of the stages are, and what they can look like when you choose sobriety.

  1. Denial: Initially, individuals may experience denial, refusing to accept the reality of the situation. They may feel shock, numbness, or a sense of disbelief, as a defense mechanism against the overwhelming emotions. For many people, comparing your drinking to others is a form of denial. “At least I’m not as bad as____!” Instead, you should be asking yourself, “Is alcohol positively serving my life?”
  2. Anger: As the shock wears off, individuals may begin to feel anger. This anger can be directed at oneself, others, the situation. I’ve heard many clients ask, “Why can’t I just be normal and drink normally?!” You can feel frustrated and angry that you can’t handle alcohol, that you can’t have just one, or that you too often end up in an argument.
  3. Bargaining: In this stage, individuals may attempt to negotiate or make deals in an effort to regain control or delay the inevitable. They may find themselves pleading with a higher power, questioning “what if” scenarios, or seeking ways to reverse the situation. This is where I see so many people lingering for so long. The bargaining stage may last years when a definitive decision cannot be reached. I see women all the time bargaining with the specific time of day they are allowed a drink, or maybe only on the weekends, or maybe they just won’t drink hard liquor. They may spend weeks, months, or years in this stage trying to figure out the perfect combination that will allow them to drink.
  4. Depression: As the reality of the loss sinks in, individuals may experience profound sadness, hopelessness, and withdrawal. This stage is marked by a deep sense of grief and an introspective reflection on the magnitude of the loss. Depending upon the individual, this stage may not last very long. The mental, emotional, and health benefits from sobriety can far outweight any loss that has come with giving up alcohol. I have seen plenty of people, however, who do not commit to the work, do not seek out the sober community, and do not change their habits flounder in this stage for quite some time.
  5. Acceptance: The final stage is characterized by a gradual acceptance of the loss and a willingness to move forward. This does not mean that the pain disappears or that the individual forgets, but rather they reach a point of understanding and adapting to their new reality. This is where doing the work kicks in. It’s when the individual has accepted that sobriety IS the answer for them and is the only way forward. They understand what it is going to take to heal and they are commited to their new way of life.


I bring up the 5 stages of grief because I have seen so many women spend more time than necessary in stage 3. I have had clients who wouldn’t admit to their spouse that they were seeking help with their drinking. I’ve known women who had gone a couple of weeks without a drink and thought just one glass of wine would be ok. There are influencers on social media doling out tips on how to try to moderate drinking with tactics like drink a water in between alcohol. While I understand they are trying to slowly introduce some to a healthier lifestyle, this article isn’t for them. This article is for the woman who knows she can’t have just 1. The bargaining is a trick the ego is playing on you to keep you ‘safe’. I air quote safe, because we all know it’s not truly safe. It just means we know what to expect when we drink and we don’t know what to expect when we are sober. The ego likes to know what’s going to happen and thus it hates change.

If you have been questioning your relationship to alcohol and have found yourself in the bargaining phase longer than you would like, below are some journal prompts to help you proceed to the acceptance stage.

  1. Reflect on the behaviors you are trying to negotiate or control related to giving up alcohol. What are you hoping to achieve through these efforts? How realistic are these expectations?
  2. Explore the emotions underlying your bargaining. What fears or anxieties are driving your need to negotiate? How are these fears holding you back from accepting the reality of giving up alcohol?
  3. Write a letter to your drink of choice, expressing the emotions and thoughts you have been holding onto in the bargaining stage. What do you need to let go of in order to move towards acceptance?
  4. Consider the potential long-term consequences of remaining in the bargaining stage. How is it affecting your well-being, relationships, and overall sense of peace? What would it mean for you to let go and embrace acceptance?
  5. Identify moments or signs of acceptance that you have experienced, even if they were brief or fleeting. Reflect on how those moments felt and what allowed you to experience acceptance in those instances. How can you cultivate more of those moments?
  6. What are some of the lessons you have learned thus far in giving up alcohol? What has this journey taught you about yourself, life, or the nature of grief? How can you incorporate these insights into your journey towards acceptance?
  7. Write down three positive things that have come out of the grieving process or giving up alcohol in general. Focus on any personal growth, resilience, or newfound perspectives that have emerged. How can you build on these positive aspects as you move towards acceptance?