Bereavement after drug abuse
A sudden loss to drug abuse can leave you with unanswered questions
In 2020, 4,561 deaths related to drug poisoning were registered in England and Wales, according to the Office of National Statistics. If someone you love has died after one-off or long-term drug use, your grief might be laced with complications.
Before going any further, whatever your circumstances please know:
You are entitled to grieve.
You had no control over their choices (or the choice of others if their drink was spiked, for example).
This kind of bereavement can feel like a very lonely journey. You don’t have to go through this alone.
The Unknown - You don’t know what you don’t know
A sudden loss to drug abuse can leave you with unanswered questions about what happened, and why, and what you could have done about it.
There may be a lot of unwanted stigma, unwanted media attention, or family questions about knowing how much or little they may have suffered when they died, and more.
There may be a large amount of involvement with the police, NHS, coroners, funeral directors and there may be courts to attend for an inquest.
You will be supported by a Family Liaison Officer during a long process.
You do not have all the answers and the process of finding some, albeit not all, of the answers may come from the inquest.
Normal and Natural Reactions to Loss
It’s important for you to know there are a number of normal and natural reactions to loss that you may or may not experience. Some of these reactions are your mind and body’s way of coping. It’s not an exhaustive list, but hopefully this will give you an idea of what you might go through in your grief journey.
You don’t need to fight these feelings, or avoid them. The best thing to do is go with them, even if you set a timer for a few minutes, breathe through them, acknowledge them, and then carry on with your day.
Aches and pains, most often in your chest or back
Changes to your sleep patterns—inability to sleep or over-sleeping
Feeling unable to function
Changes to your eating patterns—lack of appetite, nausea, binge-eating
- Shock, especially if their death was sudden and unexpected.
- Dreams that your loved one is still with you
- Suicidal thoughts
- Desire for revenge or punishment
- Irritability or restlessness
- Anger and/or rage
- Feeling nothing
- Urges to self harm
- Worry about burdening other people
- Avoidance of places, people, or memories associated with the death
- Relief that the worry is over, relief the person isn’t causing anymore disruption.
- Trouble concentrating or remembering
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Panic attacks
- Feeling disconnected from your body
You may feel a loss of expectations for their future, especially if the person who died is young, or it was a one-off experiment with drugs that went wrong.
Your relationship with them might have been a difficult one, causing you extra layers of grief.
You might be exhausted and feeling the strain on your own, and as a family, after years of enduring the highs and lows of drug abuse, and possibly mental ill health, too.
You might have experienced a sense of hopelessness that you were unable to do anything.
Your loved one may have been estranged for a while. Please know it’s normal in this circumstance not to feel the yearning and loss of that person’s physical presence.
You may also be carrying around guilt for feeling like you didn’t do enough, or experience a sense of guilt because you feel relief that there has finally been an end to the suffering. This guilt can be profound and utterly overwhelming at times.
For a while, there may be blame raised by other family members or even you blaming yourself for not being more involved in an attempt to prevent the death.
This is different for everyone. Everyone’s experience is unique.
What can you do?
When grieving, one of the best things you can do is ask for help. Talk to your family, friends, or other loved ones, and when people ask if they can do anything, or if they tell you they’re there for you, don’t be afraid of telling them what you need them to do.This could include some ready meals, mowing your lawn, coming with you to attend any appointments…
If you’ve spent a lot of time taking care of others, it’s quite normal to feel guilty about taking time that is just for you. However, it’s an important part of healing and taking care of yourself. Self care could include:
Getting enough sleep
Eating enough nutritious food
Having enough down time
Setting healthy boundaries
Spending time with friends
Getting outside into nature
Doing an activity or hobby you enjoy
Eating your favourite food
Spending time with pets
Get professional help through grief programmes, or counselling (find an expert)
Writing in a journal
Exercising or other physical activity
Peer support groups can also be useful to help you know that you’re not alone, while remembering everyone’s experience is different, and all loss is felt at 100 percent for each individual.
What can we do?
Grief Specialists is a Community Interest Company that helps people going through loss by creating free resources and connecting you with professional help.
Our directory is full of experts offering an array of grief services across the UK to help you move beyond the pain of loss. If it feels overwhelming to try and work out who’s who, we’re here to help.
Our team can be contacted by email (email@example.com) - or via our social media pages. We’re here to help you on your grief journey.
Maria Bailey is an Advanced Grief Recovery Specialist based near Torquay, Devon, where she lives with her husband, three children and two dogs. Maria uses the Grief Recovery Method, a short action programme via Zoom, to mainly help people who have lost loved ones to cancer and Covid-19.