Losing a loved one to addiction is an almost impossible grief. There’s no universal method to coping because each one will have to deal with the loss on their own terms. The heart is a strange thing. How many times have you heard of somebody dying of a broken heart? But it’s a very real thing, especially for couples who have been together for a lifetime. When grief is too much due to drug addiction and alcoholism, death can be a welcoming friend.
This is not to say that you should be swallowed by your own grief. The pain of losing a loved one to addiction can be debilitating but still, you need to move forward, especially if there are others who depend on you.
The death toll due to alcoholism and drug addiction is showing no signs of abating. The United States is dealing with an opioid epidemic and 63,632 Americans died in 2016 due to a drug overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol poisoning, meanwhile, claims 88,000 lives per year. Nobody is immune. You may know somebody who is struggling with alcoholism or substance abuse—whether it’s an immediate family member, relatives, friends, or acquaintances or even a co-worker. Sometimes talking to them about their problem and getting help can be the difference between life and death.
Below are some of the steps you can follow in order to minimize the pain of losing a loved one to addiction:
Coping with Losing a Loved One to Addiction
1. Allow Time for Grief
Everybody grieves differently in the face of death. Some can move on almost immediately, while others sink into depression. Time is a great healer. However, if you think that you are heading on a downward spiral with no means of stopping then it’s time to ask for help from your family, friends, and even professional counselors who can help you process your grief.
2. Don’t bury your feelings
If you are guilty because you feel that you didn’t do enough to help your loved one deal with drug addiction or alcoholism, don’t try to bury it deep inside where it’s bound to come out as a complex. This is where all the problems start when we don’t acknowledge how we feel. Unlike what others may tell you, there’s nothing wrong with feeling a pang of guilt. The earlier you acknowledge this, the earlier you can seek help. Eventually, you have to forgive yourself.
3. Know that you couldn’t have control of the outcome
No matter how you replay all the events leading to the death of a loved one due to drug addiction or alcoholism, you can’t change the outcome. Recognize that this is a fool’s errand and will only result in unnecessarily damaging your psyche. Losing a loved one to drug addiction may be difficult but trying to second-guess your actions is downright impossible. What you can do instead is to honor their life. Bring them flowers, cook their favorite food, frame your favorite photo of them, and really know them through the eyes of their friends. Everybody makes mistakes but it’s not what people do that defines them.
4. Take stock of your life and find a motivation
Losing a loved one to drug addiction will drive you to exist on auto-pilot, and that’s fine, at least in the beginning. For parents who still have other young children to care for, they need to understand their responsibilities. Yes, they are grieving but there are others who rely on them to be strong. Their children are probably grieving, too, and they don’t even understand why all these things are happening. They need a lot more of care and love from everybody to make a sense of what’s going on.
5. Take a vacation
You may feel guilty about taking a vacation right after losing a loved one to addiction, but you desperately need a distraction. It’s better that you bring your close friends or family members with you on the trip. This is a good opportunity to talk about your loss, process your guilt, fears, and grief. It’s also a good way to feel that you are not alone in this. You can also take a vacation alone. For instance, did your loved one have a dream destination before their death? That could be a good starting point for where you will travel next.
6. Pursue an advocacy
Don’t let losing a loved one to addiction become the end of the chapter. You can create a foundation on their behalf or take up an advocacy against the dangers of drug addiction and alcoholism, using the death of your loved one as a cautionary tale. If you feel that you are not ready, there are non-profit organizations that are in desperate need of financial support to continue their assistance to people struggling with substance abuse. You can help raise funds or make a contribution yourself. Another way is to raise awareness on the benefits of seeking alcohol or drug rehab treatment because that decision could save their lives.
In that way, losing a loved one to addiction wasn’t for nothing.
7. Make a Bucket List
Losing a loved one to addiction doesn’t mean that their legacy is finished. Make it your responsibility to complete what they’ve always wanted to do when they were still alive. Did they want to go bungee jumping? Did they want to visit the Vatican or the Caribbean? Did they want to go parachuting? What were the dreams your loved one shared with you before their death or before their drug addiction?
8. Share yourself
If you feel a large amount of grief after losing a loved one to addiction, you can share your love and time with others who are in a similar situation. There are countless cases where people pursued a career in counseling and therapy after a death in the family due to drug addiction and alcoholism. When you see that some people face a bigger problem than yours, you gain a new perspective on life.
9. Accept people’s generosity
The death of a loved one because of drug addiction or alcoholism may shatter the safe cocoon you have built around yourself. This could drastically change the way you look at other people, especially if you have no idea that your loved one was struggling with substance abuse. However, don’t expect your friends to just change the way they look at you because of what happened. When others ask you out for coffee, bowling or dinner at their house, take them up on their offer. You might be surprised just how good people really are even if society does have its dark side.
What to Do to Comfort Somebody Who Lost a Loved One to Addiction
If you have a friend dealing with a loss of losing a loved one to addiction, there are some things you can do to avoid adding to their burden.
1. Don’t judge them by the way they mourn
Don’t measure the level of their grief by your own personal yardstick, especially if you’ve had a similar experience before. People will mourn on their own time. Some can function almost immediately while others will take days or even months before moving forward from losing a loved one from drug addiction or alcohol abuse.
2. Give them space but let them know you are always there
People dealing with losing a loved one to addiction may feel uncomfortable with all the attention and sympathy. If they want space, respect their decision but let them know that you are always going to be there if they need your help.
3. Don’t judge the addicted individual
The last thing that your friend needs is your opinion regarding the death of the individual as a result of alcoholism and drug addiction. You may not agree with some of the things they did. However, what could be the ultimate consequence than losing a loved one to addiction? There’s nothing you can say or do that will change that.
4. There’s no single way to cope
Refrain from giving advice unless prompted. You may have successfully moved on after losing a loved one to addiction, but the circumstances and your own personal experiences are different from your friend. Don’t tell them that they “should do this” or they “must do that.” When they ask for advice, please give it to them but make sure you don’t attribute blame or judgment.
5. Never tell your friend that they should move on
There’s nothing more annoying than being told that you should be happy or move on after losing a loved one to addiction. Sure, your intentions may be good but there’s a time and place for everything. They will move on when they are ready. Your role is to provide an emotional support until they are.
6. Don’t push your religion and faith
Your friend’s faith may have been rocked after losing a loved one to addiction. Don’t take it personally if they lash out at God for the death of the individual due to alcoholism and drug addiction. If they are not religious, don’t impose your belief on theirs. Don’t say God has a plan that we mortals could not understand. When they want your spiritual guidance, let them say it first.
Losing a loved one to addiction is a hard pill to swallow, especially if you think that you could have done more to help save the life of the addicted individual. Drug addiction is unchartered territory for some people, so they often had to grope in the dark most of the time until they can find the light switch, so they can see better.
The important thing is for you to take it one day at a time until you are ready to forgive yourself and move forward.