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How to Get Through the Loss of Someone to Addiction

Of all the major life events you can experience, losing someone you love is one of the most painful events that you will endure. When you experience the death of a loved one or close friend, a multitude of powerful emotions come to the surface and the intensity of these emotions can be overwhelming. While these feelings are a normal part of the mourning and grieving process, this process can become more complicated if your loved one or friend died as a result of drug and alcohol addiction. Along with the positive memories that you may hold of that person, there can also been negative memories that you feel which can make the grieving process more difficult to navigate.

Unfortunately, death due to drug addiction has been steadily increasing in the United States for over two decades and has become the leading cause of injury and death. According to figures published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 114 people die in the United States as a result of drug overdoses and nearly nine out of every ten poisoning deaths are attributed to drug abuse. If someone you love dies due to addiction, there are certain stages of grief that you will go through. While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, it is important to understand these stages and find ways to deal with your pain in a way that will allow you to move on.

The Stages of Grief When Losing Someone to Addiction

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Grief is a highly individualized experience and everyone goes through the process differently. Whatever your experience may be, it is important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to occur naturally and for however long it takes. When we grieve the loss of a loved one, we go through several stages of the grieving process. When we work through these stages we feel different levels of emotional intensity. It is important to note the stages of grief that we experience do not necessarily go in order and there is no concrete timetable in regards to the length of each stage.

The first stage in the grieving process is denial and isolation. In this initial stage, we react to the news of a loved one that has died from addiction by denying the reality of the situation. The blocking of those overwhelming emotions is a defense mechanism that helps buffer the shock that we feel. While we understand the event has happened, we hide from the facts in order to carry us through the initial wave of pain and anguish.

This is a temporary response, and once it wears off the reality of the situation re-emerges and we enter the second stage of the grief which is anger. Our anger comes from the fact that we aren’t prepared to adequately deal with our vulnerability and emotions. Those emotions are redirected towards other people, friends, family and the addict. We feel resentment they have died and may feel anger towards family, friends and medical professionals who failed to help the loved one. We may even feel guilty for being angry, and in turn that makes us even angrier.

In order to overcome our feelings of helplessness in regards to the situation, we attempt to regain control by engaging in bargaining. During this stage of the grieving process, we may say things such as:

  • “If we were able to get through to them sooner…”
  • “If only we were able to get them help….”
  • “If only we had tried to listen…”

Bargaining is a weaker line of defense that temporarily protects from the reality of the loved one’s death and once that wears away we enter a stage where we feel overwhelming depression. In this stage, there are two different types of depression that we feel. The first type of depression we experience, we may worry about funeral arrangements and burial costs and the regret we may feel about not spending time with those who depend on us. The second form of depression we feel during this stage runs deeper and is more private. With this form of depression, we are preparing to say goodbye and learning how to let go of our loved one.

The last stage of the grieving process is acceptance where we experience feelings of calm and peace. When we accept the fact that our loved one is gone, we can begin the process of healing and moving forward with our lives. In this stage we are no longer looking backward trying to relive what should have been done or what could have been done. Instead, we begin to understand that a new chapter in life is beginning.

Getting Support to Deal with Your Grief When Losing Someone to Addiction

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When you experience the grief associated with the death of a loved one due to addiction, it can feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster. While the feelings that you are going through may seem unbearable, it is important to seek the support of others so that you can heal. By turning to others in your time of need, you are able to work through those overwhelming emotions. To start the healing process, you need to lean on family members and friends and accept offers of assistance that may be offered to you.

If you follow a religious or spiritual tradition, you can embrace your faith and engage in prayer and meditation to find comfort. If you feel vulnerable in your faith, you can seek the support and encouragement of clergy or other religious leaders. You can also talk to an experienced therapist to help you work though the intense emotions that are associated with grief and mourning. Additionally, there are many support groups that are available to you where you can share your feelings of loss with others.

One of the most well-known grief support groups for those families who lost loved ones due to addiction is GRASP. GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing) was founded to provide resources, assistance and encouragement to those families who have had loved ones dies as a result of substance abuse addiction. Another well-known grief support group is GriefShare. This group meets weekly and engages in personal reflection and group study in order to work though the emotional challenges presented by grief and mourning. There are thousands of GriefShare meetings available across the country and local meetings can be found by visiting www.griefshare.org.

If you need assistance in finding a grief support group in your area, you can start by contacting local hospitals and counseling centers, as well as your local funeral homes and local substance abuse advocacy groups.

11 Responses to “How to Get Through the Loss of Someone to Addiction”

  1. What does it take to get into Ur rehab my husband. Committed suicide by moriphine which lead me into a herion addition. I’ve lost my house cars and my children to DSS because of the addition please help me what does it take. Please I want I need my life back. Help me and my children. Put me on intervention I don’t care. I’ll do whatever it takes please.

    Reply
  2. I lost my son Jan 26,2016 from a long battle of drugs. His house burnt down in October,then he got sick. We thought he was detoxing but he got an infection from using iv drugs. He had 2 heart valves replaced and 4 surgeries. He was in icu 31 days. His kidneys shut down, his left lung gone and we think his brain got the embolism to. He was suppose to go to rehab the day he went in the hospital. I tried to get him to go even a court order. My heart is broke and my family is falling apart. I love my kids even.when it’s tough love. I need help I cry everyday 3-4 times a day. My family don’t understand. I loved him so much, me and him went through a lot. He promised me nothing to come between us. I miss him so much

    Reply
  3. Debra McKenzie

    I just lost my sister (Lora, 48 years old) to alcohol. I have been sounding the alarm to family for about 18 months that she was severely addicted. I made 2 trips to AZ from MN and in November confronted Lora with her husband. I told them both the problem was bigger than they could handle and she needed in patient treatment ASAP. My entire family bought into all the excuses (menopause, Hashimoto’s, thyroid, allergies, migraines.) It was BS, I could clearly see she was and addict. 2 days after my Nov 2015 visit, her husband called and said he was going to get her some counseling and it was best for me to not be involved anymore. She was hospitalized twice after that for seizures and failing liver.

    A week ago she was hospitalized for the last time and did not survive. All but one member of my family (my brother) including my sisters husband are still trying to live the lie that she had other issues that contributed to her death.

    I specifically walked through all of the things Lora was going through right before she passed with the ICU doctors. She had a failing liver, kidneys, profuse bleeding and blood that would not coagulate, pneumonia, anemia, etc. I specifically asked those doctors (in front of my brother-in-law) if all of the failing health was due to her liver. They said yes, she was in the final stages of cirrhosis. Despite that, Lora’s husband and several of my family insist on the “cover up.”

    I am angry. They did not listen to me when I was sounding the alarm and now they are choosing to live a lie because they failed to help Lora when it was still possible to save her life. Further, I am now the outcast for telling the truth.

    Lora’s husband was married to my sister for 5 years. He now gets to make all the decisions on her remains, her personal items, and has cut me out of communications. My relationship with my sister is a half century longer than that of her husband. I was robbed of my sister and now further experiencing distress over the way all is being handled.

    How do I deal with this garbage? This is devastating!

    Reply
    • Deja Holley

      Debra,

      We are very sorry to hear about the loss of your sister and hope that you can find strength and support in our community.

      Reply
  4. My son passed on,June 15 2016
    They found him unresponsive with no pulse and did CPR for so long he was brain dead. we were contacted by the police basically to say good by and they unhooked the machines,less than 24 hours,later
    He passed away in 30,seconds
    No one seems to,understand. Please,pray

    Reply
  5. Nicole

    I lost an ex boyfriend to heroin. We’ve been separated for over a decade but it feels like he’s gona all over again. Yes we used to get high together and I wish I was stronger for him. I wish I tried harder. I wish I didn’t love myself more than him bc maybe he’d still be here. He was my soul mate but heroin aka “our cancer” drove us apart. Now 5 people, including him, have overdosed on heroin. Why do the ppl who get clean have to watch their frinds die? People I love! I can’t deal with it. I miss him so much. He will forever hold the key to my heart. I cry multiple times a day. He had the biggest heart and everyone loved him. He was so charasmatic, and I honestly can’t even find a word that is wonderful enough to fit the kind of man he was. He was just sick with addiction. I just miss him and I wish I had a freaking magic wand to rewind time and change shit. I’ll always love him and I hope he knows that.

    Reply
  6. My 15 month old daughter’s father died from a benzo overdose. I’m having such a hard time coping with his loss. Sometimes I feel like it’s my fault although I remember having so many conversations with him telling him to just be careful that I knew he had this addiction but to still be careful and go easy and to try to take it easy but he just wouldn’t listen and he would always overdose this past Thur. July 14 it took his life and I don’t know how to deal with it.
    I’m trying to learn coping skills and the grieving process is and it’s just so hard to even think about that I will never see my soulmate ever until it’s my time. I just wish I knew of a better way to cope..

    Reply
  7. Shedae Huffmaster

    My husband hung himself on July 18th and I’m left with our baby boy. He was in ICU but passed on July 22nd, he was brain dead and we had to take him off life support. There was no hope for him to come back. All his organs shit down. He was addicted to heroin and hated himself for relapsing. He wanted to be a good father and husband but the drug had a strong hold on him he couldn’t shake. He was in pain and suffering from his addiction. Now he rests and his demons don’t haunt him anymore. Where do I go from here? I’m lost and miss him so much I want my baby back. He was only 32. We had our whole life ahead of us and it was all taken away in an instant.

    Reply
  8. To all families,
    I’m so sorry for the struggle and loss you have all experienced. My very bestfriend (more like a sister) just loss her son on 7/26/16. Joey was 20 years old with so much to live for. He had been struggling with drugs since his early teens. Joey’s mom is now strugglinag so bad with the passing of her son and everyone around her seem to have gone on with their lives and its only been two weeks. i’m not even Joey’s real Aunt and its hard. How can his sister and brother, step dad, biological dad all move on after two weeks like he was just in another rehab and will be home in a few months. I don’t understand this is her child. How do I help her through the process to give herself permission to grieve. All of these families are going through so much, but only all of you understand what shelly is going through. My husband had three funerals just this week because of this drug epidemic. The same day Joey died another one of my friends son died of the same thing. Same day. Literally twelve hours apart. IF anyone can help and explain how to help my friend i would greatly appreciate it. Thank you.

    Reply
  9. stephanie proffitt

    I just lost an ex boyfriend/ best friend. He struggled with addiction.. he took my 8 yr old son in… we were a happy family. So many pictures and memories..he hid it for so long. Then I started noticing the sweats..the with drawals. I literally cried at his feet one night begging him not to go out with friends. I knew that he would do drugs… I left him after trying so hard.. I kicked him out… which made him realize what he had. We never were negative towards each other. I coukdnt stand living in the house that we shared. It broke my son’s heart when I made him leave. He went to rehab in may.. we spent the night with him at his families the night before.. the. I moved far away. It felt right…. he got out after s month and was heart broken that I moved away. We stayed in touch. He told us he loved us and he was found dead on August 10. He seemed happy.. he had been clean. How did this happen. I feel guilty for leaving… like I should of been there when he got out of rehab. But my last few messaged from him were that he loved us very much and just wanted us happy. He was always positive. I miss you Dakota ray

    Reply

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