How to Survive the Grief of an Overdose Death: 11 Tips

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Many families and friends have lost someone they love to addiction and overdose death. If a family’s love could cure addiction, it would prevent the tens of thousands of needless overdose deaths in the U.S. alone. An untimely death of any kind will always leave people in shock and in pain. Losing a friend to overdose or a close family member may leave you struggling with depression and anxiety. 

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For families that have suffered multiple losses and trauma, the devastation is compounded not only by the deaths of their loved ones but by the stigmatization associated with a drug overdose. 

How to Survive the Grief Immediately After the Overdose Death

Surviving the often unbearable pain and grief following a loved one’s overdose death may seem nearly impossible. The profound sorrow that you feel leaves you feeling as if you’ll never make it out from underneath this heart-wrenching devastation. 

Surviving this type of grief can be painful, especially when you tried everything in your power to help your loved one through their addiction. There are some things that you can do to help you survive this overwhelming loss. 

1. Take deep breaths

Getting the news that your child, parent, or friend died of an overdose is one of the worst things for anyone to live through. Even when you think you’ve emotionally prepared yourself for this day, your world suddenly collapses around you. Take a moment immediately to sit down and breathe as you take in the news of your loved one’s death. It may take a few hours or a few days for reality to sink in. 

2. Let go of resentments

Many people don’t know what to say when a loved one dies unexpectedly. Your support group may be trying to find the right words to comfort you when “I’m sorry about your loss” doesn’t begin to cover the magnitude of what you’re feeling.

Know that they’re doing their best to offer you words of encouragement and condolences. Avoid taking what they say personally and holding on to resentment in the immediate aftermath of getting the news. They may not know the right way to comfort you. 

3. Forgo feelings of guilt and regret 

Understand that the addiction or drug use leading up to their death was only a small part of who they were. It is crucial to remind yourself that your loved one didn’t do this to hurt you or your family. Drug addiction is a disease of the mind and body where a person who is addicted cannot control the urge or impulse to abuse a substance.

Most of those addicted to substances stay away from their friends and families to shield them from the pain of seeing them suffer through this illness. Their accidental overdose death was not aimed at hurting or punishing you.

4. Accept the loss

Don’t judge yourself for what you did or didn’t do to prevent this from occurring. Accidents are just that. They can happen to anyone at any time and when least expected. A person can die of an accidental drug overdose the first time they ever try drugs. The same can be true of someone who has been addicted to drugs and has been using for years.

They can get a hold of tainted drugs from an unfamiliar supplier, a well-meaning friend, or someone they thought they could trust. Accept their death as an accident without looking for fault in something you said or did. 

5. Allow yourself to feel

How do you move forward after losing your best friend, child, or partner when you’re struggling with feelings of anger, shame, and guilt? It is easy to feel angry at yourself for not having done more to save your loved one. You may also be mad at them for being so reckless with their life. 

Remember that it is okay to feel all of these emotions. As time passes, you’ll begin to sort them through. Things will become more transparent, enabling you to better understand your feelings. 

How to Cope With Your Grief of an Overdose Death Months or Years Later

Your loved one’s death from an overdose can compound your grief in many ways. In the beginning, you may be numb to your loss while trying to make sense of it. Months and years can pass by before you’re able to reconcile their death and allow yourself to grieve your loss. 

There are specific ways in which your grief will be harder to cope with, just as there are ways in which you’ll be able to move through the pain and suffering easier than you expected. 

6. Give yourself time to heal

An overdose death can create barriers to healing when you isolate and withdraw from others. Isolation and withdrawing from your loved ones can make it more challenging to move through your grief. However, when it comes to an overdose death, you may be feeling ashamed over how your loved one died. It’s not uncommon for people who’ve suffered this type of loss to feel the stigma associated with losing a loved one to drug addiction and overdose. 

Don’t overthink what others might be saying about you. Everyone has the right to find comfort, peace, and hope after the death of a loved one. The more barriers you place in front of you when it comes to healing from your pain, the longer it’ll take for you to move through your grief. Take as much time as you need. Grief has no timetable. 

7. Let yourself grieve

Feelings of stigma over having a loved one die of an overdose may prevent you from permitting yourself to grieve their death. It’s okay for you to feel pain and to suffer from your loss. You don’t need to make excuses or hide your grief from the outside world.

Whether your loved one was an addict or died from their first time using, an accidental overdose doesn’t change the kind of the pain and hurt you’re experiencing. Allow yourself to grieve over your loss both publicly and privately. 

8. Forgive yourself

It may take a long time to learn to forgive yourself after the overdose death of your loved one. You may not have seen their death coming, or if you did, there may not have been anything you could’ve done to prevent it. Most people with loved ones who abuse drugs are in denial that something so tragic could happen to someone you know and love. 

Overdose death can happen so fast and when least expected. You may spend a lot of the first few weeks and months following your loved one’s death going over all the ways you could have or should have been there for them. Self-forgiveness doesn’t come quickly or easily. You must actively seek and ask forgiveness of yourself to yourself. 

9. Seek out grief support

Resentment and bitterness are two genuine emotions that a person who’s suffered the loss of a loved one to an overdose feels. When looking for online therapy or counseling, look for skilled and trained individuals who know how to deal with the grief associated with drug addiction loss. When looking for an online grief support group, seek out others who’ve faced this type of loss. 

This is important when seeking support from others. You’ll need people who’ll understand what you’ve suffered through. There’s usually very little support in the general grief community for drug overdose deaths. One grief support group in particular founded with this type of loss in mind, is called GRASP: Grief Recovery After a Substance Abuse Passing. You can find more information about this group via Facebook. 

10. Find new meaning

After experiencing such a profound loss, you may not have it in you to move forward with your life. The death of a loved one who has overdosed will change your life forever. It’s not unusual to feel like giving up and resigning to whatever life brings your way. This is an easy time to fall into depression.

Permit yourself to seek out new ways that add meaning to your life now that your loved one’s no longer in it. You can never replace the person you lost, but you can move forward with living the rest of your life seeking a new purpose and meaning. 

11. Remain open to new opportunities

Making sense of your loved one’s overdose death may take years for you to reach that level of understanding. As you’re working through processing your grief, remain open to the opportunity to be of help or service to others going through the same or similar experience such as yours. 

Every life is meaningful, and dealing with drug addiction can be one of the hardest things for a person to cope with. Consider volunteering your time and lending your expertise to organizations that can benefit from your experience. You may be able to help someone struggling with addiction or having a hard time during the first few days and weeks following their loved one’s death.  

Losing a Loved One to an Overdose

Death and addiction are two things that are difficult to talk about. Losing someone you love to an overdose death can compound that difficulty, leaving you feeling many things. This type of death has the power to stigmatize, divide families, and leave you feeling shameful, guilty, and responsible for your loved one’s death.

Healing from this experience and loss will take time. Allow yourself to grieve without placing labels or limitations due to the cause of death. There’s no shame in loving and missing someone who died an accidental overdose death due to an illness out of their control. 

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