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Grief is a normal response to losing someone close to you, although not everyone experiences grief in the same way. You can find more information to help you understand and cope with the process of grieving in this section.

Unanswered questions

Unanswered questions are common when someone dies from drugs or alcohol. If you did not know about their use beforehand then you will also have many questions about how and why they were using drugs and alcohol. They may have been living with addiction and keeping it from you, or they may have only just started experimenting. Sometimes it may have been the first time they used drugs or alcohol to dangerous levels.

What you might be experiencing

If you have just found out that someone close to you has died through drug or alcohol use the news may come as a terrible shock. It will still be a shock if the death was expected or feared. Feeling numb or experiencing a flood of emotions are both common, and you will have some difficult practicalities to deal with. Make sure you get as much help as you can. What you may experience The shock of a bereavement affects people in different ways. You may feel numb, or you may feel confused and lost.

I feel suicidal/want to end my own life  

In the midst of grief many of us find that we think about our own death, or even wish we were dead. It can seem like a way out of coping with the problems and pain of a drug or alcohol related bereavement. Although it is common, it is important to find someone to talk to about these feelings. If you think you might act on your feelings, you can call Samaritans on 116 123. When someone who has been a central part of our life dies we can feel hopeless and despairing.

Who can I talk to ?

Cruse Bereavement Care run their Freephone National Helpline on 0808 808 1677 and offers emotional support to anyone affected by bereavement. This line is open Monday-Friday 9.30-5pm (excluding bank holidays), with extended hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, when Cruse are open until 8pm. 

Sarah's personal account

57, 27, 21. Numbers I will never forget. I was aged 27, when my mother aged 57 passed away on the 21st from alcoholism. It might seem odd that my age sticks out as a significant number, but for me it was something I was constantly aware of, "You’re still young you'll be fine", "you've still got marriage and kids ahead of you", "you've got your career in London" people would say. 

What makes bereavement through drugs and alcohol different?

Every bereavement can be difficult and painful. But when someone we care for dies as a result of drug or alcohol use there are some common factors that can make it even harder. 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. People may assume that an addict had a choice, or that their addiction and death were their own fault. Many people will be understanding, but not knowing who is thinking like this can lead to us avoiding others and feeling isolated. 

I feel like I’ve lost them twice

I feel like I’ve lost them twice – once to the drugs/alcohol and now they have died When someone dies as a result of using alcohol or drugs it may be after a long period of addiction or time spent using drugs or alcohol. You may already be exhausted from years of coping. It is common to feel that the death is actually the second time you have lost the person. This can have an effect on how you grieve and cope following a death from drugs or alcohol - Living with drugs and alcohol

Living with drugs and alcohol

Living with a loved one’s drug or alcohol use can be exhausting and challenging. You may have had to cope with many of the following difficulties. Fear: You may have had to live with the fear of something awful happening. You may have been expecting or fearing your loved one’s death or they may have had previous overdoses. Living with fear places you under constant stress. A death can still be a horrible shock, even when it is expected.

I didn’t know my loved one was using drugs or alcohol 

Sometimes friends or relatives do not know before a death that their loved one was using drugs, or using alcohol to a dangerous level. If this happens the shock and trauma of an unexpected death is combined with the shock of finding out about an addiction or unknown drug or alcohol use. You will be faced with many questions. Feelings of guilt and regret are very common. Double trauma A sudden death is always traumatic.

Feelings of guilt

Feeling guilty is very common after all drug and alcohol related deaths. When you did not know about your loved one’s use before they died, you may also feel very guilty that you missed signs that they were already using drugs or alcohol, or had problems and were using drugs or alcohol to cope.  You may have spotted your loved one acting strangely, or had suspicions and decided to ignore them, or put off a confrontation. You may find yourself questioning your memories, and wondering what you could have done differently.