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Surviving the substance related death of someone you love

"Honest listening is one of the best medicines we can offer the dying and the bereaved."

Jean Cameron


"Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love.

The only cure for grief is to grieve."

Earl Grollman

Grieving the loss of someone you care about is hard, painful emotional work. When the death is a result of substance use, it can be a complicated grieving process with many seemingly contradictory emotions. In addition to the feelings of loss, deep sadness, depression, even despair common in any grief experience, there are added emotions that can be confusing and deeply painful. People grieving an overdose or other substance related death often report  feeling guilt, shame, blame, anger and anguish about a loss that seems avoidable.

Very often, bereaved loved ones of someone who died a substance related death also deal with the stigma and misunderstanding associated with addiction disorders. This can lead to isolation, also sadly common to families of people struggling with addiction. These feelings of isolation only add to the anguish of those grieving the loss of their loved one. Fear and worry about other family members’ use of substances can be another unique aspect of moving through this type of death. It is important to remember that each person’s experience of grief is unique to them, that there is no right way to grieve, and that all feelings are acceptable.


It is possible to find support and understanding when you are processing a substance-related death, either through a peer grief support group, online communities or a supportive therapist. You do not have to do this alone.


  •, Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing offers resources to anyone who has lost someone to a substance-related death. For information about a monthly support group meeting email:

  •, advocates for drug policy reform, effective treatment for substance use disorders and provides support to bereaved people through GRASP.

  •, a website whose mission is to educate and provide resources and support to families impacted by the substance use disorders of a loved one.

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