What to do after a loved one dies from substance addiction

Do Not:

  • Hide; we are everywhere and want to connect with you.
  • Avoid the topic; we need to get people involved in finding solutions.
  • Feel responsible; this problem is too big for one person to shoulder.
  • Feel ashamed; addiction is not a moral choice, so it should not shame anyone.
  • Lie about cause of death; your loved one deserves a medal for fighting an enormous enemy even though the battle was lost.
  • Hate: if your loved one was addicted for a long period, he or she probably introduced someone to drugs, sold drugs, and lied to get drugs. Others involved in the first or final blow are just as likely to die, and more death is not the answer. Love and forgiveness will open a way for you to heal.

Do:

  • Inform the Public
  • Ask local media to headline the tragedy.
  • Highlight this person’s real (before addiction) personality.
  • Tell people what this person would like others to understand.
  • Explain how the addiction first began and then progressed.
  • Warn others that addictive substances kill valuable people.
  • Describe how you feel, what you learned the hard way, and what you would like changed.

 

  • Connect people in need with people who are supportive and informed
  • Point out when others use insulting or simplistic terms for a complicated problem: junkie, loser, scumbag, tested dirty, etc.
  • Work to redefine the problem using words that accurately link addictive substances together, not just drugs given by doctors versus drugs sought out illegally.
  • Defend people with addictions so that others will approach them with support and not an egotistical attitude.
  • Connect with the friends of the deceased person because they might be the next to die, and they are just as human, trapped, hurting, and scared.
  • Befriend people with addictions by asking and listening without judging or lecturing because they need to feel accepted, loved, understood.
  • Reach out to other families who are trying to save their loved ones; you know how alone they feel, and you might be able to help them avoid the pain you are feeling.

 

  • Campaign for change
  • Write to anyone you can find in power and demand policy change.
  • Explain how the system made getting help difficult or impossible.
  • Explain how judging substance addiction is the real problem.

 

  • Grieve
  • Reach out, join groups, and find support.
  • Cry. You didn’t deserve this!

If you the reader can add to this list please do. I have been rethinking my son’s death for 4 years, and I made many mistakes in what I should and should not have done. Looking back I wish someone told me what to do, but instead I felt numbed by the singularity of my experience. Part of the numbness was due to the lack of any discussion by those who had lost someone due to overdose. Another big reason for my tendency to grieve alone was the stigma of addiction and death by an illegal substance. Once I started reaching out, the people with addictions themselves were my saviors. So, don’t make the mistakes I made, and add anything you learned  so I can update this list for the next poor soul who stumbles upon this post.

One thought on “What to do after a loved one dies from substance addiction

  1. My son just died of a heroin overdose..what people don’t understand is that prescription drug addiction is NOW leading to people looking for illegal drugs because they are cheaper and easier to get a hold of AFTER they get addicted to prescription medication. I always read stories like these and was like “oh that’s sad something needs to be done” but that’s it, until it was MY child. We had NO CLUE he was using heroin. He was 19 , he was talented, intelligent and sweet, not the psycho addicts they show on tv, even his friends has NO CLUE. This is a nationwide epidemic. The weekend my child died there were 72 people in Chicago alone that overdosed on heroin. They is a stigma that goes along with “my child died of an overdose”, let alone died of a heroin overdose. What people don’t understand is its not the same as when we were growing up , heroin addicts are the jocks, cheerleaders, soccer mom’s, babysitters. These people aren’t the bottom of the barrel people that they were portrayed as in the past. Look at the celebrities dying of heroin overdoses or illegal drugs in general. This issue needs to be brought to the surface and faced head on. No one deserves to bury their child. I want my child’s story out there along with all other children (no matter the age, everyone is someone’s child). If his story and other children’s story can stop one person from dying and/or get help then his death wasn’t in vain.

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