There are numerous obstacles that inhibit family recovery from addiction. One of the most critical is the cumulative effects of anticipatory grief (AG). AG is a process through which grieving begins in expectation of an imminent loss. It is the rehearsal–the progressive letting go–that unfolds as a loved one approaches death or as we experience the forthcoming relocation of a friend or the end of an intimate relationship. AG is particularly evident when families have experienced numerous near-death experiences of a family member with a terminal illness. AG helps prepare family members for the final loss event and may be experienced so intensely and completely that some family members feel little emotion in response when the anticipated death occurs. While such lack of emotion can spark guilt in oneself and condemnation from others, it often reflects not a lack of grief but that a prolonged process of grieving has been prematurely completed.
For families facing addiction of a family member, every unexpected absence, every late-night phone call and every knock on the door elicits images of injury and death.