How to Support Someone Who Lost a Loved One to Overdose
Losing a Friend or Family Member to Overdose
Nearly 92,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2020, so chances are high that you or someone you personally know has been affected by one. Many of these deaths occur at relatively young ages, so there’s often a sense that a promising life has been lost. You probably find it hard to know what to do or say when someone you know has lost a loved one to a drug overdose, but there are some ways that you can support them in their grief.
As you probably already know, modern culture has a stigma about drug use. Especially towards those who are addicted and those who die from overdose as a result of their drug or alcohol addiction. Don’t be surprised if you have mixed emotions like shame, anger, or guilt in addition to your sense of loss or grief. If you’re feeling guilty because you think you could have done something to help, know that the person with the addiction has to recognize they need help before they’ll do something about their substance use disorder. (And as they say in recovery meetings, Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt!)
When seeking a drug rehab near Los Angeles, especially in the aftermath of losing someone to addiction, it’s important to recognize and address the complex emotions that can arise. Grief in such situations is often compounded by a range of feelings:
- Sadness Over Unspoken Goodbyes: Not having the opportunity to say goodbye to a friend or loved one can leave you with a profound sense of loss and unresolved emotions.
- Disappointment and Guilt: You might grapple with feelings of disappointment for not realizing the extent of the individual’s addiction, or guilt for not intervening sooner.
- Fear of Judgment: There can be a concern about how others perceive your relationship with the person who struggled with addiction, leading to feelings of isolation or misunderstanding.
- Frustration with Misunderstanding: Feeling that others don’t comprehend the intensity of the addiction’s grip on your loved one can be frustrating. This can be exacerbated if it seems like no one knows how to offer appropriate support.
You may be angry – with them, yourself, society, or anyone you believe enabled their drug or alcohol addiction – and want to blame someone for their death. Conversely, you might want them to be remembered for the good things they did during life, not how they ended it.
You can feel all these emotions all at once, too, even if that seems contradictory. Grief can also have some unexpected effects when you’re dealing with the overdose death of someone you loved. You may experience some or all of the following:
- Mood changes, especially increased irritability and sadness or anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness
- Difficulty sleeping; you might have dreams or flashbacks about your loved one and how they died
Tips for Helping Someone Grieving an Overdose Death
Helping someone remember their loved one positively can remind them that the person had an addiction and wasn’t at heart bad or evil. But don’t skate over how they died or pretend that it happened in a different way. Acknowledge the sad reality of death by overdose.
Educating people about addiction is also helpful since this helps lessen the stigma for everyone dealing with substance abuse. You might be especially helpful in guiding others who want to express sympathy but are doing it in the wrong way, being either too judgemental or ignoring the circumstances completely.
There are various additional ways to support someone who lost a loved one to overdose. Grief in general can be very isolating, so make sure that you stay in touch with them over time. It’s very common that after the funeral, former friends can sometimes drift away and leave the mourner to their memories. However, grief lasts a lot longer than a few weeks, and they could still use support as the months go by.
Keep checking in with them
Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to be around people crying, but a shoulder to lean on is a huge relief for someone struggling with grief. It’s OK for them (and you) to cry, even if it’s been a while since the overdose occurred. Keep talking about their loved one and don’t avoid saying their name.
Share your happy memories
Remember the person throughout their whole life, not just the time that was taken over by their drug addiction. Most people who suffer from substance abuse disorders are good people who happen to be addicted, so share your thoughts about them and the things you enjoyed with them.
Recognize birthdays or other important days
People who’ve lost their loved ones often feel like others keep living their lives and forget about them. This is especially true for those who died of a drug overdose. Show that you care by reaching out (it could be with a card or a small gift) on days that were important to the person who died.
Listen with no judgment
One of the best ways to support someone who lost a loved one to an overdose is to simply listen to them without judging the person who died. There are many judgemental people out there, so be the one who’s a true support to the grieving person. They may express some emotions that you’re not comfortable with, like anger or shame, but do your best not to judge them for the feelings they’re having either.
Ask if they’d like to connect with groups or other resources for additional support
Depending on who they’ve been in touch with, they may already have these resources at their disposal. Ask first so they’re not overwhelmed, and volunteer to go with them if you think they might need a helping hand to get there.
Learn what to do if someone you know has an allergic reaction to meth in our blog below:
Current Overdose Rates in America
There are many different habit-forming drugs in the US, some of them available by prescription and some not. Currently, the main driver of deaths (per the CDC) is opioids, including heroin and morphine, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and prescription drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone. They’re responsible for about three-fourths of all drug overdose deaths, and most of those opioid deaths (about 82%) are from synthetic opioids. The rate of overdoses from methamphetamine is also increasing, both with and without opiates in the mix.
Synthetic opioids like fentanyl have also increased the likelihood of drug overdoses from cocaine, meth and similar drugs, and heroin. Both fentanyl and meth are highly potent and can be obtained relatively cheaply, contributing to the increase in overdose deaths attributed to these two drugs. Some substance users knowingly take fentanyl, but it’s also cut with other drugs so it might be taken inadvertently too.
Harm Reduction Measures That Can Prevent Overdose Deaths
Harm reduction methods are a way to meet someone with a substance abuse disorder right where they are to help prevent death. That’s instead of insisting that they immediately withdraw from all drugs and become abstinent, which has its own set of risks. Though there is a stigma around some of these measures, they can help ensure that someone who’s addicted to drugs doesn’t end up a casualty of their substance use.
Fentanyl test strips
Because fentanyl can be added to other drugs without the user knowing, with potentially fatal consequences, widespread use of fentanyl test strips at community centers (especially at needle exchanges) can help reduce deaths by overdose.
Dirty needles are a good way to spread infectious diseases like hepatitis C and HIV as well as cases of sepsis. Exchanging dirty needles for clean ones also puts drug users in a safer habitat for doing drugs, where an overdose can be treated in time.
Increasing access to overdose reversal treatments such as naloxone
Naloxone can save the life of someone who’s just overdosed on opiates. Having it more widely available means that opioid user is more likely to survive their OD.
Overdose Prevention Resources at Muse Treatment Center
At Muse Addiction Treatment Center, you’ll find all levels of care for treating someone with substance use disorder. In addition to medical detox, inpatient programs, and outpatient rehab, we also feature an intensive outpatient program and sober living to help anyone who suffers from drug or alcohol addiction transform their life. We treat dual diagnosis patients with mental health issues and substance abuse. With a recovery program from Muse Treatment, you can live the life that you deserve – free of drug or alcohol addiction. Learn how to live and enjoy a healthy, fun sober life by calling us at (800) 426-1818 today.