In 2016 alone, the number of American lives lost to drug overdoses exceeded the American death toll of the entire Vietnam war. The loss of life also exceeded that of the HIV/AIDS epidemic at its height. And it’s getting worse: In 2017, drug overdose deaths increased by 9.6%.
The evidence is staggering. We are in the midst of a worldwide alcohol and opioid epidemic that leaves too many families and friends dealing with traumatic aftermath.
Each person who dies tragically from an alcohol or drug related death leaves at least four people dealing with that loss. There are wives, husbands, sisters, daughters, employers and more who are left to pick up the pieces as they struggle with how to cope with this type of death.
My own personal experience has brought me five sudden deaths, and I know firsthand how excruciating and debilitating this type of loss can be. While death in and of itself is devastating, alcohol and drug related deaths compound the experience for many of us. The grief experienced by family, friends and loved ones is conflicted and often complicates the healing process.
While everyone grieves differently, families surviving an overdose or alcohol related death are more likely to experience intense feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy. Parents often feel intensely acute pain as we all believe parents are supposed to precede children in death. They are also left to confront old stigmas attached to addiction, where society all but says a person doesn’t have the right to grieve due to the nature of the death. This causes acute isolation and a drive to overly self-regulate the normal emotions processed while grieving.
I know that friends and co-workers can struggle with finding the right words or actions, but sometimes it’s the simplest tactics that mean the most. Here are some tips for how to support friends, family, and loved ones grieving an addiction loss.
The following is a list of resources you may find helpful:
My hope is that anyone dealing with grief recovery can find tools, people and support necessary to get through the experience. Finding coping strategies and people who care for you is essential, as is handling yourself with patience and compassion.
Dr. Louise Stanger is a professional interventionist. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW, BBS #4581) for over 35 years, she specializes in substance misuse, process addictions, mental health disorders, sudden death, trauma, grief and loss. She founded All About Interventions to help families move from fear to hope. Dr. Stanger is also a speaker, educator, trainer, and co-author of The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions: A Collective Strategy. To learn more visit https://www.allaboutinterventions.com.