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I feel so guilty

When someone dies after using drugs or alcohol we nearly always feel that we should have been able to prevent it.

Feelings of guilt and regret can be paralysing. Understanding that the choice to use drugs and alcohol is down to an individual, and that we could not have prevented their death, is an important part of learning to live with this kind of bereavement.

Different kinds of guilt

There are many, many things we may feel guilty about after a death when drugs or alcohol were involved.

We should have known more:  we feel we should have known what was going on; how serious it was; what might happen.

We should have done more: we feel we should have confronted them; stopped them using drugs or alcohol; forced them to get help.

We should have done less: we feel we shouldn’t have put them under pressure; we shouldn’t have helped them out financially.

The need to blame someone after a traumatic or untimely death can be very strong. Blaming ourselves can be easier than blaming the person who died, or other friends and family. 

Different relationships

Different relationships will bring different kinds of feelings and different kinds of guilt.

For example as parents who have lost a child we may feel unbearbably guilty that we have failed to protect our children.

Or as partners and friends we may regret that we failed to confront drug or alcohol use, or joined in, and feel guilty that we have survived when our loved ones have not.

Coming to terms with guilt

Forgiving ourselves is not easy, but coming to terms with guilt is a big part of living with drug or alcohol-related bereavement. 

We need to remember that whatever choices we made, the ultimate choice to use drugs or alcohol was down to the person themselves.

Understanding this, and not feeling overwhelmed with anger, is a very difficult emotional balancing act.

You can read more about grief and about how others have coped, on other pages in the section on grieving.

You can also find out more about practical issues

See also