Feelings of shame, and the sense that people are judging us can make it difficult to cope when someone dies from drug or alcohol use. This can also lead us to avoid other people and create feelings of isolation.
Sadly some people can be judgmental, but others will be understanding.
It is worth finding those who you can trust and talk to, even if it is just one or two people.
Shame and stigma
Those of us who have lost a loved one to drugs or alcohol often feel that society is judging us, leading to a sense of shame and disgrace.
Those who do not understand addiction or bereavement may make assumptions about someone based on how they died.
Not all of their assumptions will be true:
- People may think there is something inherently shameful about a death related to drugs or alcohol.
- People may assume that someone who died from using drugs or alcohol was addicted. Some may have been, but some may have only just started experimenting.
- People may assume that someone who died from using drugs was involved in crime or illegal acts.
- People may assume that an addict had a choice, and that their addiction and death were their own fault. In fact addiction, drug and alcohol use are complex.
- People may assume that friends or family members could have done more to help their loved one.
Many people will be understanding, but not knowing what people are thinking can be a huge source of stress.
It can also lead to avoiding others and feeling isolated.
Of course we can often struggle with these thoughts ourselves, and fear of stigma may be tied up with our own feelings of failure – why couldn’t we do more in our roles as parents/partners/sons/daughters?
Feeling guilty is very common in drug and alcohol-related bereavement.
Finding someone to trust
Although you may fear being judged, it is important that you do find someone to talk to.
It is worth thinking about who you can trust.
Even if it is just one or two people it can help you not to feel you are holding it all on your own.
If you find some people are making you feel worse, or ashamed about yourself or your loved one, you will have to decide how to tackle it.
If they are important to you, you may want to try explaining how they are making you feel, and asking for the help you need.
But if they cannot offer that help, then it may be best just to avoid them if you can.
At this time you need to put yourself first.
Dealing with professionals
We hope that any professionals you come across after your loved one has died will be understanding and treat you with caring and respect.
Sadly we know it is all too common that professionals can also make many assumptions, and talk about your loved one in a very hurtful way.
In this situation ...
You can read more about grief and about how others have coped, on other pages in the section on grieving.