Grieving After An Overdose


BY: Stephanie McIlvaine, MSSA, LISW-S

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

​International Overdose Awareness Day was held this year on August 31, 2015 to remember the many people who have died due to an overdose and to educate the public on the growing commonality of this tragedy.  A primary goal of this day is to remove the stigma associated with drug overdoses.  This epidemic does not discriminate based on gender or any other factors.  Everyone is at risk.

The number of deaths caused by overdoses keeps growing, surpassing the number of deaths due to automobile accidents.  Every fourteen minutes someone dies due to a drug overdose.  How can this happen?  Why does this happen?  We wrestle with many questions.

Grieving a death due to an overdose often leaves loved ones with feelings of loneliness and isolation. Some feel as if they are the only ones experiencing a loss in this way and may not want to share the real cause.  They may feel embarrassed or angry when informing others about it.  So, they avoid social situations or conversations with others.  This exacerbates the cycle of loneliness and isolation.

To help yourself through your grief, however, it is important to find others you can connect and relate to -- people who are also suffering a loss due to an overdose.  At least, find people who are good listeners. 
In addition, remember to take care of yourself.  Do what helps you.  Practice yoga or breathing exercises.  Take long walks or fast runs.  Listen to music, take naps, journal.  Find your own rhythm in healing and seeking peace. 
Also, it is crucial to accept the role that substance abuse played in the death.  It is important to educate yourself and understand the addiction.  This does not need to happen right away, but in time, this knowledge can better help you come to peace with the how and the why.

Become your own ambassador through grief.  Guide others to understand how you are feeling.  Grieving people will often say that others do not ask about the grief or mention the person who died by his or her name.  Take the initiative and tell others what you need;  “Today I am having a bad day.  Could you just listen to me?  I don’t want you to give me advice.  Just listen.”  Or maybe “I understand you are not bringing up what happened because you don’t want to upset me.  However, I am always grieving and thinking about it.”  We often feel we will be let down by family and friends if they don’t call us.  Call them.

And, remember you are not alone.  Give yourself permission - and the time - to grieve.

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