Every year, drug and alcohol addiction claims the lives of too many people. According to the Center for Disease Control, 30-40 thousand people in America die each year due to drug addiction. If someone you loved is one of those whose life was cut too short by addiction, you are likely feeling heartache, confusion, anger, and grief.
Those feelings are understandable and important to feel. After all, nobody deserves to die due to addiction and the unique emotions caused by this type of death are difficult to process.
However, it is possible to not only deal with the loss of a loved one from drugs or alcohol, but actually help others in the same situation. In this way, you can make sure that your loved one’s death has a meaning to it.
Understand The Five Stages Of Grief And How To Get Through Them
When your loved one passes away, you may go through five distinct phases of grief. The fact that drug addiction caused the death is going to make many of these stages more troublesome to pass through, but with help, you can cope with and manage the difficulty of each step.
Here are the stages you can expect, as well as ways in which you can recover:
- Denial and isolation – Here, you are going to isolate yourself from grief by denying the reality of the situation. This stage is potent in drug deaths because they are often so sudden. You might ask somebody if they are “kidding” or even joke about the death in an off-hand way. This phase will likely pass quickly into the next.
- Anger – In a drug death, you are often going to blame everybody you can. Their dealer, their friends, yourself, people who used with them, people who didn’t, society, the drug: everyone will be to blame but your loved one. Get through this phase by accepting that your loved one’s behavior can be blamed on no one but themselves. A harsh truth, but one that must be understood.
- Bargaining – After you’ve gotten control of your anger, you may want to control the situation by “bargaining” with it. For example, you might say something like “if only we had talked to them about their addiction sooner” or “if we had only sent them to rehab.” Understand that the situation is out of your control and that there is nothing you can do to change what has happened.
- Depression – Losing control of the situation will plunge you into depression. This phase is often the lengthiest and is caused by the sense of loss and, in drug deaths, it is also caused by a feeling of senselessness and pointlessness. It is wise to talk to a psychologist or friends offering support during this phase.
- Acceptance – This is the hardest stage to reach for anyone who has lost a loved one and it is especially difficult in drug deaths. How do you accept the loss of a loved one when you think it could have been prevented? How can you not be angry at someone who used with them? There’s no set path for you to take in order to reach acceptance, but understanding that your loved one is in a better place and there was nothing you could have done to change the situation will help.
Acceptance isn’t giving up on your loved one or somehow ignoring them. It is simply moving past the death and letting the reality of it no longer actively affect you. Yes, you will remember your loved one forever, but you can move on and live your life again. You might have a hard time with this, due to the nature of their passing, but it is possible in all circumstances.
Reach Out To Others Who Are Affected
When someone you love passes away, it is easy to feel like you are alone in your grief and that their death has only affected you. This is especially true with drug addiction deaths as they can seem so fruitless and pointless. However, there are others who are just as affected as you and who need just as much comfort.
If you’re able, reach out to the following people in your loved one’s life to make a personal connection and to ensure that their death has a meaning:
- Other family members of the loved one
- Friends who did not use drugs
- Friends who did use drugs and perhaps feel guilty
- A spouse or partner
- Children of the loved one
It’s easy to feel anger at people who have used drugs with your loved one. You may blame them or think they somehow contributed. And people who feel no guilt or remorse are probably worth avoiding. However, those who feel guilt and want to change should be embraced. You may be able to help them beat their addiction and keep another person from drug-related death.
Helping another person like this can help you better understand the nature of addiction (it IS a sickness) and give you a rush of positive emotions, however, you should also avoid investing too much of your emotion in someone who is struggling with addiction.
Often, helping another person suffering from a drug addiction may fill a void that was created by your deceased loved one. But, if this person struggles to get sober while you are involved or even passes away due to addiction, you are going to feel even more devastated. So the best advice is to approach them caringly, but maintain an emotional distance until they are clean.
Create A Support Group
After you’ve reached out to other people who you know have been affected by the death of your loved one, bring them all together in a support group. Here, you can talk about your grief and find ways to move on from it together. Sharing stories, remembering positive moments, and engaging each other in constructive ways can help all of you move beyond your grief.
Utilize social media resources, such as Facebook and Twitter, to create a group where you can share memories and strength. Everyone will need someone they can trust and who has gone through the same experience. Banding together creates a circle of positive emotion that can bring happiness back into your life in a gradual, yet constructive manner.
You can even expand the nature of your group by volunteering for anti-drug groups that focus on education and prevention. Share your story with youths and others who could be affected by drugs early in life;help them understand how dangerous it is and why they need to abstain from use and avoid others who use.
This kind of activity can make you feel like an active and vital member of society, one who is fighting against the epidemic of drugs in this country. Though it may be hard to believe, your story and your actions may help inspire others to either avoid drugs or quit before addiction becomes a problem. Anyone can make a difference, even if it starts small and subtly.
Books That May Help
If you enjoy reading and have recovered from grief in the past through literature, there are many fine books available that can help you get comfort during this difficult time. Each of these books focuses on healing through the death of a loved one due to addiction, many of them written by people who lost a child or a loved one due to this illness:
- Losing Jonathan, Robert and Linda Waxler
- One-Way Ticket: Our Son’s Addiction To Heroin, Rita Lowenthal
- When a Child Dies From Drugs; Practical Help for Parents in Bereavement, by Pat and Russ Wittberger
- Sunny’s Story, Ginger Katz
- Living When a Loved One Has Died, Earl A. Grossman
- I Am Your Disease: The Many Faces of Addiction, Sheryl Letzgus McGinnis
While these books feature many heart wrenching stories and difficult sequences, each ends with the writer recovering their hope and moving on from grief. They are poignant and gorgeously written books filled with many inspirational quotes that may help your heart experience the relief that it needs after losing your loved one.
Don’t Let Grief Take Over Your Life
Drug and alcohol addiction takes the lives of too many of our beautiful children and it can be difficult to move on. Grief can take a debilitating toll on the heart, one that demands your attention without mercy. But you can survive this loss and move on to regain your life.
If you need someone to talk to or have a loved one you want to save from addiction, please contact us right away at Vertava Health to learn more.