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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. 

Traumatic circumstances: When someone dies through drugs or alcohol it can be in traumatic circumstances. The police and other officials are often involved. There may be an inquest and a post-mortem which are stressful and delay funerals and memorials. We may have questions about how and why a loved one died which are never fully answered. Sometimes there is media interest which can be distressing and intrusive.

Experiences before the death: Many people bereaved through alcohol or drugs have been living with an addiction in the family, sometimes for many years. When someone close is experiencing addiction it can make life very difficult: emotionally, practically and financially. Issues you faced beforehand can often carry over into bereavement.

Suddenness and shock: Whether or not the death was expected or feared it can still feel like a devastating shock when it happens. Some people do not know beforehand that their loved one was using drugs or drinking too much and some loved ones may have only recently begun experimenting

Intensity of emotion: It can be very difficult to make sense of a death when it feels like it happened at the wrong time, and in the wrong way. Because of this, and the other factors which make bereavement through drugs and alcohol so difficult, we know it can be very, very painful. It can take a long time to work through and process this pain.

You can read more about these factors, and how others have coped, here. You can also find out more about practical issues or how to get support.

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