A person who has lost a loved one by death caused by a drug overdose faces a challenging grief and bereavement process. There are seven ways in which grief and bereavement are compounded by the drug overdose death of a family member or other loved one.
Stigma and Isolation
Hundreds of thousands of families are impacted by drug abuse and addiction each year. This includes families who lose a member due to a drug overdose death.
Despite the significant number of families that are impacted directly by drug abuse and addition, a prime reason why grief associated with a drug overdose death is particularly difficult is due to perceived stigma and associated isolation. The stigma and isolation compounds grief in a number of ways:
- Difficulty in accepting the circumstances underlying a loved one’s drug overdose death.
- Reluctance to openly discuss the loved one’s death.
- Reluctance to participate in support groups and therapeutic programs and counseling.
- Reluctance to seek support from other family members and friends.
Grief associated with the death of a loved one by drug overdose is compounded by guilt. The level of guilt associated with the drug overdose death of a loved one can be profound and utterly overwhelming. Grief associated with an overdose death is exemplified in a number of different ways. These include:
- Family and friends of the victim of a fatal overdose believing that they could have should have done something to prevent the death.
- An overarching sense of guilt that the deceased family member suffered from addiction in the first instance.
- Guilt found in the fact that the death of a loved one by overdose may result in a sense of relief.
- Obsession surrounding actions that could have been done or should not have been done in relation to the person who overdosed and died.
In addition to guilt, blame also heightens the level of grief afflicting people who lose a loved one by a drug overdose death. Blame comes in a number of forms following a drug overdose death of a family member or other loved one:
- Blame directed at those individuals that used mind-altering substances with the person who died.
- Self-blame associated with a perceived role in the deceased person developing a drug addiction in the first place.
- Self-blame for the individual’s death.
- Blame at the deceased person for his or her own death by overdose.
- Blame directed at other family members for not being able to prevent the death.
- Obsession over actions done or not done to support the individual who died from a drug overdose.
Related to perceived stigma, shame is another factor that makes the grief process associated with the death of a loved one by drug overdose more complicated. During the bereavement process following an overdose death of a loved one, shame manifests itself in a number of ways. These include:
- Shame that a family member suffered from drug addiction.
- Shame for enabling the loved one that died from a drug overdose.
- Shame for feeling as if not enough was done to assist or help the person who died from a drug overdose.
- Shame for the person who died from a drug overdose.
Fear and Anxiety
Yet another reason why grief and bereavement following a loved one’s death by overdose are rendered more challenging is fear and associated anxiety. Fear and anxiety after a drug overdose death of a family member or other loved one manifests itself in a number of ways that include:
Fear that other family members or loved ones will start abusing mind-altering substances.
Fear that other family members or loved ones that are using mind-altering substances will overdose and die.
Fear that other family members of loved ones that are in recovery will relapse and possibly overdose and even die.
Grief and bereavement associated with the death of a loved one by drug overdose become more complicated and virtually overwhelming as the result of unanswered questions. These unanswered questions can truly eat at a person who has lost a loved one through a drug overdose. Examples of unanswered questions include:
- What motivated the deceased person to use?
- Was the person alone when he or she died?
- Did the person experience pain at the time of death?
- Was the death really a suicide?
- Did the deceased person reach out to anyone for help?
- Did I enable the person who overdosed and died?
- Where did the person get drugs?
- Was there something more that could have been done to help the person?
Lack of Effective or Meaningful Support Resources
Finally, grief associated with the overdose death of a loved one is compounded and prolonged because of a lack of effective or meaningful support resources. For example, there is a myriad of grief support groups. However, the needs of a person bereaving the loss of a loved one through a drug overdose are highly unique. Thus, an individual in that position truly needs uniquely structured individual grief therapy and group grief therapy. For example, a person who lost a loved one by a drug overdose can most effectively garner support via a grief support group consisting of people with the same experience.