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Surviving the Grief of an Overdose Death

Jonathan Richardson Posted By

Are you in the midst of surviving the grief of an overdose death?  Please know that you are not alone.  Here is some information that might give you some insight and comfort.

Overdose Death Affects All of Us

Substance abuse is an important social and public health problem.

According to World Health Organization, psychoactive substances are all those that, when consumed, are capable of altering the psycho-physical balance of an individual.

These substances act on the brain mechanism which influences behavior, thinking and motivation.  The effects a drug will have on a person cannot be predictable, especially when it is the first time using, or even if it is a small dose.

Drugs can lead to abuse, addiction, serious health issues, and even death.  Legal drugs — prescription and over-the counter medications — can be as dangerous as illegal drugs.

There are six classes of drugs:

  • Narcotics
  • Stimulants
  • Depressants
  • Hallucinogens
  • Drugs of concern
  • Designer drugs

The impact of drug addiction on the health of the drug addict is far-reaching, including:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Lung disease
  • Mental disorder

Sadly, the number of deaths involving drugs is getting higher every year. In 2016 more than 60,000 people died from overdosing. Drug overdoses are still the leading cause of death for people under 50.

Surviving the Grief of an Overdose Death

Dealing with the loss of a loved one, including a drug addict, is difficult.

Grief and suffering are emotional responses when losing someone loved. Words like ‘pain’ and ‘broken heart’ are often used to describe the sadness and suffering someone is going through in those moments.

What you should know is, it is OK to cry. Give yourself permission to do it. Do not push your feelings down. You are allowed to cry and it will actually have a positive effect on your mental health.

A loved one’s death is an irreparable loss. Each person reacts differently within the circumstances. Some people might need a few weeks or months, while another might need more than a year, especially if the loss was unexpected.

It is important not to judge the deceased person for their addiction, understand that it is literally impossible to know exactly what they went through and what drove them to this path.

Symptoms of Grief After an Overdose Death

Guilt and regret are unavoidable and losing a drug addict might cause bitterness. Each individual has different feelings. People’s response to losing an addict is shaped by the relationship between them and also personality and life experiences.

Grieving may be expressed physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually:

  • Physical expressing includes crying, sobbing, headaches, lack of appetite, insomnia, weight loss, fatigue, overwhelming feelings, and other signs of stress.
  • From the emotional point of view people can experience sadness, longing, worry, anxiety, frustration, anger, or even guilt.
  • Social expressing consists in isolation and bizarre behavior.
  • Spiritual expressing is about the questions people ask themselves regarding the cause of loss, the purpose of pain, suffering, and the meaning of life and death.

Suffering can cause serious and long-lasting symptoms such as depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, or post-traumatic stress. Intense pain can cause unusual experiences like hallucinations. People who find themselves in this situation should consult a psychologist or someone specialized in counseling.

Age and emotional development also influence the way someone deals with the loss. It could take one, two, or more years to go through all stages of grief, but you should stay positive and become a better version of yourself. Sometimes even after two years pain can be felt. It happens, especially during holidays, or other special events.

After a loved one dies, the feeling of safety disappears. Adjusting to an important loss can be helped by developing or strengthening relationships with other people, see new places and engage in new activities. These new chapters of life are not meant to replace the loss, but serve as a support for the beginning of a new life phase.  You should get involved in the funeral arrangements, this way you could get used to the idea and say a final goodbye.

Treatment for Grief Following an Overdose Death

Pain is a natural response that does not require medical treatment, but sometimes people need help to overcome the whole experience.

Discuss Medication with a Physician

The first days after the loss, anxiety and insomnia can create difficulties.  A physician may prescribe anxiolytics (anxiety-inhibiting medicines) on short term, if it lasts for more than a few days.

Seek Counseling

You could consult a specialist, attend a group therapy, or both. They can help in case you are not able to move on from the loss. Do not be afraid to share your feelings.

If someone goes through a suicide attempt, the emergency services must be contacted immediately.  A medical and psychological check is needed when the loss led to complications such as depression, prolonged anxiety, post-traumatic stress or tremendous sadness over a more than 6 months.

A few pieces of advices that could help the healing process:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise
  • Be involved in activities
  • Do not blame yourself or others

To get over the loss of a drug addict, you should surround yourself with people you love.  It helps expressing your feelings and concerns and also you will feel better not being alone.

One important thing is to avoid getting trapped in smoking, alcohol, or un-prescribed medicine.

These only represent short term solutions, even if at that point you could see them as helpful solutions. There are a lot of unanswered questions.

Ask for Help if You Aren’t Coping with Grief

There are specialized groups that will help you get through this.  They can help you understand what drugs are, the damage they cause on the mind and body, and what is in an addict’s mind.

Raise awareness about the dangers of addiction to help prevent other people from having the same fate.

Join Online Support Groups

You can also find online support groups if you are one of those surviving the grief of an overdose death.

When you lose someone to addiction, your entire life changes. You feel frustrated and it may seem that there are no more reasons for you to live, or that your life can never be the same again and you will not be happy anymore. Your view of the world becomes darker. There are more than a few specialized institutions that can help you go through grieving and help you move on.

Do not forget: you are not alone!

Jonathan Richardson is an avid freelance writer and recovery advocate for Texas based rehab centre, Willow Springs Recovery Centre.  He has been in recovery from addiction for eight years and most of his writing is dedicated to informing people about addiction, the possibility of recovery and helping people addicted to drugs find the right care they need.