What is grief?
Grief is a normal and natural response to loss. Common sources of loss that can engender grief include:

  • Bereavement (a response to the death of a loved one or significant other, including pets)
  • Significant relationship break-ups or unwanted separations (including where a client of a service loses a worker who moves on or when treatment ceases)
  • Family separation
  • Geographical moves
  • Loss of cherished objects or possessions (e.g. the loss of a home or family photographs in a fire)
  • Incapacitation (where people or loved ones have lost capability)
  • Loss of vocation or identity
  • Loss of anticipated opportunity or rewards (Those who have invested hope and effort into achieving life goals that do not come to fruition)
  • Giving up a behaviour like substance use that has been associated with pleasure and has had an important function but is strongly associated with unwanted complications and problems

Loss related trauma is also connected to grief. Young people who have experienced family disruption and abuse and/or neglect in their early lives are particularly susceptible to loss related trauma.

How grief is experienced
Grief has many dimensions and can be experienced:

  • Emotionally- Grief is felt as a sensation of profound sadness and yearning
  • Physically- People who are grieving commonly experience sleep and appetite disturbances and at times experiences of acute pain
  • Behaviourally- Grief can reduce one’s motivation to participate in typical life activities and at times limit people’s interest in their own self care
  • Cognitively- Impact on cognitive functioning can result in lapses of concentration or a continual ‘fogginess’
  • Spiritually- Grief can provoke a questioning of previous assumptions about the nature of the world (Parkes & Priegerson, 2010).

While grief is usually an uncomfortable and unwelcome experience, particularly in the acute phases, it can also be transformative. Many people come to value how they grow and develop through grieving (Gillies & Neimeyer, 2006). Even so, grief can involve feelings that are extremely powerful, painful and even frightening.  Grief reactions may overlap with symptoms of depression and other mental health presentations (Parkes & Prigerson 2010 p135; Raphael, B. & Dobson, M. 2000,p 52).


Grief can also be a shared experience for families, communities and at a national level. For example, Australia’s Stolen Generation (where Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families of origin and communities in the interest of turning them into white Australians) has resulted in profound and shared experiences of grief that continue to reverberate throughout the generations. National Sorry Day is an annual event held in Australia on 26 May to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of the continent's indigenous population. The day carries great significance for the Stolen Generations, as well as for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and non-indigenous Australians.

Why is grief important in youth AOD practice?
Young people who are clients of youth AOD services will have potentially experienced significant loss and be grieving in some way. Substance use can function as a way of managing the emotional and physical discomfort of grief. Through understanding the meaning of a client’s loss and their experience of grief, a youth AOD practitioner can enable him or her to find more constructive ways to find relief and work it through.

Grieving can raise important questions about the purpose and meaning of life and prompt self-reflection. Youth AOD practitioners also need to be mindful of developmental considerations for young people whose sense of self and the future can be profoundly affected by the death of a loved one or close peers.

Young people are more likely to be exposed to deaths which are sudden, unanticipated and violent. The death of peers through means including suicide and sudden accidents occur in circumstances that are likely to be traumatic. This form of the death itself may be extremely difficult to comprehend and imagine and the impact on the survivors may consequently be traumatic (Toth, Stockton & Browne, 2000). 

The Grief Module was developed by Julia Cernaz & Andrew Bruun 2013