Losing a Loved One to Addiction - Rehab Guide

Losing a Loved One to Addiction

Losing a Loved One to Addiction

rehab guide

What it’s like losing someone to addiction

Losing a loved one or relative is always hard. If you have lost a loved one from an addiction, it is often more challenging and more complicated.

When someone with an addiction dies, the relatives and friends of the addicted person need the support of those around them.

It is not healthy, mentally and physically, to suppress your emotions. If you feel guilty because you think you did not do enough to help your loved one deal with their alcoholism or drug addiction.  Do not contain that guilt, as you will only cause yourself further grief.

Be Honest With Yourself At All Times

Acknowledge you could not control the outcome; regardless of what happened leading up to the death, you cannot change the outcome. Thinking otherwise only leaves you torturing yourself and causing you further harm. The loss of a loved one to addiction is always difficult to deal with; however, blaming yourself will not help.

Bereavement is a traumatic event for anyone to cope with. When you have lost a relative or loved one with addiction, as you move through each stage of the grieving process, it can be difficult. Allow yourself the time you need to grieve. There is no time limit to grieving; everyone is different, dealing with loss in their own way.

It is normal for some to move on straight away, whilst others may find themselves descending into depression. Do not be afraid to reach out to friends and family for support. Additionally, speaking with an or bereavement counsellor will help you process your grief and allow you to move forward.

Losing a Loved One To Drugs

Those who have lost a loved one to addiction often find it difficult to speak to others about their loss. It can be challenging for those who have never experienced addiction themselves or with a loved one to understand the circumstances around a death caused by alcohol or drugs. Some friends, family or other loved ones may not have been aware of the addiction and be shocked by this discovery. It is important to treat a death caused by addiction like any other and allow yourself and those around you to grieve in the way that they choose.

The legal procedure and process surrounding a drug or alcohol-related death can be complicated and lengthy, which can be overwhelming and distressing. Often there are unanswered questions when a loved one dies in such tragic circumstances.

Sometimes people are unaware their loved one was drinking heavily or using drugs. Regardless of whether the death was anticipated or feared, it can still be devastating when it happens.

Guilty feelings are extremely common with alcohol and drug-related deaths. You then find yourself wondering what you could have done to help or that had you done something different, and then they may still be here.

Stages of Grief When a Loved One is Addicted

There are different stages of accepting death:

Stages of denial

Denial is when you refuse to believe the problem existed or was severe enough to warrant concern. Shock and numbing set in, which is a standard coping strategy and this is generally referred to as the initial stage of bereavement. Sometimes, we may be in disbelief and try to ignore the reality of the loss.


Anger is a natural stage in any loss; it is important to talk about and understand any anger you experience. Deaths from addiction can come suddenly or after a long struggle for the individual and their loved ones. Try your best to direct this anger towards the correct targets, such as the addiction itself, and seek comfort in those around you.


Bargaining occurs when you begin to make changes in a last-ditch effort to control the event, causing grief. If your life has been affected by addiction, you may start asking yourself questions such as ‘Did I miss the signs? ‘Should I have got him to stop using drugs?’ ‘I never did know how to deal with her addiction, did I?’ Statements like this can keep a bereaved individual living in the past.

Depression and Detachment

The stages of losing a loved one move to sadness as you begin to realise that bargaining is not enough to alter reality. Feeling overwhelmed, lacking energy, worried about the future and overall emotional and physical suffering.

Acknowledge The Loss of Your Loved One


Acceptance is often the last stage when you accept reality, reach an emotional balance, and begin to take actions that reflect this acknowledgement. This does not mean that you have got over the death and are starting to feel happy again. It means that there is a form of acceptance, and you have started to adjust your life without your loved one, which is not to say that you have forgotten about them.

Of course, not everyone goes through every stage, and people can sometimes revert to previous stages. The concept of the five stages of bereavement is not perfect, but it does offer a model that can be beneficial to those who experience events that result in extreme sadness.

We have all heard the saying “time is a great healer”, although, at the time, it does not feel that way. Time is a great healer. Hope and healing after an addiction death are possible.

Grief Can Lead to Addiction

If you are left in the aftermath of bereavement, unresolved pain and feelings of depression can make you more susceptible to developing a problem with drugs or alcohol. When a person cannot healthily work through emotions, they can sometimes use substances to self-medicate.

Self-medicating may feel like help and relief from the hurt. However, it will only be short-term relief whilst intensifying your sorrow at the same time. Therefore, it is vital that if you have a history of substance abuse or mental health problems such as anxiety or depression, you seek help and support; it may prevent you from relapse or addiction development.

Bereavement Counselling

Meeting with other family members who have experienced losses through substance use can offer you the strength and support you need to move forward. Even those not comfortable enough to engage with another can have the opportunity to find comforting information, such as reading other bereaved parents’ stories about how they got through the sadness.

This, on its own, can be enough to comfort and reassure that what you feel is normal, and each person has a unique timeframe to overcome bereavement.

Coming to terms with bereavement or a developed addiction through grief can be more difficult for you to cope with on your own. We can help support you in the right direction in finding counselling that understands both addiction and grief. Please call our dedicated treatment advisers on 0141 427 3491 or 02072052845 for the first step in your recovery process.

Some Useful Resources

Bereaved through Alcohol and Drugs

The Compassionate Friends) provides support for any parent who has lost a child to addiction; they offer an online forum, helpline, befriending and legal advice services. Additionally, they provide a service for bereaved siblings.

DrugFam offers support to those bereaved by drugs or alcohol.

Bristol Drugs Project

Scottish Families Affected by Drugs and Alcohol offers free counselling to anyone in Scotland who is bereaved by drugs and alcohol.

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