Losing a loved one is always difficult. When you lose a loved one to addiction, the pain you feel is often intensified by the questions surrounding their death. In the guide below, we’ve compiled some resources to help you plan a funeral, cope with grief, and support loved ones who have lost someone to addiction.
What Is Addiction?
Addiction is often defined as a strong urge to do something, despite the associated risks. This urge can often be strong or uncontrollable, especially if the person is chemically addicted to a substance.
A person can become addicted to a variety of substances such as cigarettes, alcohol, and illegal drugs like heroin or meth. An estimated 23.5 million Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Based on the current population, that means about 1 in 10 Americans struggle with addiction.
DEATH DUE TO ADDICTION
A person can die from their drug addiction through overdose or by health conditions created by their addiction. An addicted person can suffer an overdose when he or she takes too much of a drug or combines it with other drugs.
Some addicted individuals die from health conditions caused by their addiction.
Drug addicts can die from overdose when they take too much of a drug or combine it with other drugs. Some addicts die from accidental overdose after a period of recovery because their old dosing is too strong for their newly sober bodies.
While many overdoses are accidental, an addicted person may also have an intentional overdose of drugs.
OTHER DRUG-RELATED DEATH
Many health problems can be caused by addiction. In addition to causing liver and kidney damage, drug use can cause a host of other medical problems. Drug addicts can develop cancer, congestive heart failure, lung disease, and other major illnesses.
In some cases, a person can die from drug-related illness even after they’ve given up drugs. The lasting impacts of drug use can cause continued health problems for a person. Even if your loved one doesn’t die from a drug overdose, drug use can still be responsible for their death.
Is Grief Different When You Lose Someone To Addiction?
Grieving a loved one who has passed due to drug addiction is a complicated matter. Because of the emotions surrounding this type of death, many people struggle with the grieving process.
Below are five ways grief is different when mourning death caused by addiction.
1. THERE'S OFTEN INCREASED GUILT AND REGRET
No matter how well you handled your loved one’s addiction, you’ll feel guilt and regret surrounding their death. You may wonder if you made the right decisions or did everything you could to help them.
Although you may logically know that their death isn’t your fault, guilt and regret will bubble to the surface in the aftermath of an addiction-related death. It’s important to remember that your loved one made their own decisions and you did what you could with the resources you had available.
2. YOU MIGHT NOT FEEL HELPED BY SUPPORT GROUPS
Many grief support groups offer support to people facing loss. However, the loss you feel after losing a loved one to addiction is very different than the loss you feel when a loved one dies from illness or natural causes.
When a person dies from illness or natural causes, you can mourn their death for the tragedy it is. Grief support groups help people process feelings of loss, sadness, and loneliness. If your loved one died from addiction and you feel angry or guilty, you may not feel as supported by those mourning loved ones who died from natural causes.
3. YOU MIGHT BE BLINDSIDED BY THEIR ADDICTION OR RELAPSE
If a loved one dies from a drug overdose, you may be blindsided by information about their death. This can be especially challenging if your loved one completed addiction treatment. If you thought they were off of drugs, a drug overdose can cause more shock than death after a prolonged illness.
4. THERE MAY BE UNRESOLVED FINANCIAL OR LEGAL PROBLEMS
You may continue to receive calls for your loved one after their death. Drug dealers, bill collectors, and police officers may have questions about your loved one or their financial situation.
Although you’re grieving their death, you may find yourself angry about the mess they left behind. Even if you’re coping with the loss, unexpected calls may show you an unsavory side of your loved one’s life.
5. THERE'S STIGMA AROUND DRUG RELATED DEATH
The stigma around addiction often makes it difficult to talk about your loved one’s death. While some people may avoid any mention of their loved one’s addiction, others may overlook the person’s good qualities in the face of their addiction.
Even though some people may make assumptions about your loved one based on the way they died, it’s important to remember who they were. Their life and complicated relationship with addiction cannot be shortened into a sentence or two about their death.
Should You Have A Funeral For Your Loved One Who Died From Addiction?
Every situation is different, but there is no “rule” about whether or not to have a funeral for a loved one. A funeral may help loved ones grieve and heal in the aftermath of a drug-related death.
You may choose to have no funeral for your loved one who died from their addiction. If the person who passed specifically didn’t want a funeral, forgoing the funeral is a way to honor their preferences.
Some families find the grief too complicated and choose to skip a funeral. They may choose to have a private burial or cremation instead. Although funerals are the norm, you are not wrong if you choose not to have a funeral for your loved one. If you choose to go without a funeral, you may still choose to memorialize your loved one with cremation jewelry for ashes or other products made with your loved one’s ashes.
Many people choose to have a small funeral with only immediate family and close friends in attendance. If your family has chosen to keep the details of your loved one’s death private, a small funeral might be the best fit for you.
Even if you choose to disclose the details surrounding your loved one’s death, you may choose to have a small funeral. A small funeral helps ensure the right people are in attendance. It lessens the likelihood of bad behavior or unhelpful words to those closest to the deceased.
Some families choose to have a large, public funeral for their loved one. If you do this, make sure you surround yourself with supporters. Clear boundaries should be established. You should not take on the shame, guilt, or insensitivity of others.
You don’t have to give details about your loved one’s death to have a large funeral. However, some people may benefit from your openness concerning your loved one’s death. Information about addiction and its signs could save another person’s life.
How To Write An Obituary For Someone Who Died From Addiction
When a loved one dies, you may have to write their obituary. This obituary may be published in the local paper, on the funeral home’s website, or on other websites. For a full guide on how to write your loved one’s obituary, check out our guide here.
SHARE GOOD MEMORIES
Your loved one is more than the addiction that took their life. Most obituaries include information about a person’s hobbies, career, and family. The obituary for your loved one should be no different, even if addiction took their life.
It’s okay to share good memories about your loved one. Even if you have unresolved anger or guilt about their death, you can share information about who they were in life. Include information about their accomplishments, relationships, children, and career.
DECIDE HOW MUCH TO SHARE
Many obituaries choose to exclude information about the death, especially if the person died from their drug addiction. However, there is no rule that you cannot disclose the reason for your loved one’s death.
While their addiction shouldn’t be the only thing you mention in the obituary, you may choose to share information about how their addiction led to their death. Whether you say they “lost their fight with addiction” or “died from an accidental overdose,” you can control how much or how little to share in an obituary.
INCLUDE FUNERAL ARRANGEMENT INFORMATION
Include information about funeral arrangements for the deceased. You should have information about the viewing, funeral, burial, and any other services that you may have for your loved one.
Even if an event is private to family and close friends only, share information about it in the obituary. You might write, “The deceased’s family will gather for a private funeral on Thursday.” Include information about where to send flowers and cards. Some people choose to endorse donations to a charity in lieu of flowers. Information about these arrangements can also be shared in your loved one’s obituary.
You may also choose to forgo an obituary completely. When making decisions for an obituary, it’s important to consider the feelings of the deceased loved ones. If the deceased person had specific wishes related to their obituary, it’s important to do what you can to honor their wishes. For more information about writing an obituary for a loved one who died from addiction, Beyond the Dash has a great guide here.
How To Plan A Funeral For Your Loved One Who Died From Addiction
Planning a funeral is always difficult, but that difficulty can be increased when your loved one has died from addiction. Below are some things to consider when planning a funeral for your loved one who died from addiction.
CHOOSE A LOCATION
When choosing a location for your loved one’s funeral, it’s important to consider what type of funeral service you’ll have. If you plan on having a religious funeral service for your loved one, contact your local church to organize a funeral on their property. You may also choose to hold your loved one’s funeral at a funeral home, at the gravesite, or in a location significant to your loved one.
MAKE ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE REMAINS
Will you burry your loved one in a casket or have them cremated? If you have a casket, will there be a viewing? Make sure you keep your loved one’s wishes in mind when making decisions about what to do with their remains. If you plan to have your loved one cremated, you will need to purchase an urn to hold your loved one’s remains after cremation.
If your loved one didn’t share their wishes, consult your local funeral director, pastor, or other clergy member. They may be able to offer guidance as you make this decision.
PLAN THE SERVICE
Make decisions about what to include in the funeral service. If your loved one had favorite songs or religious readings, include these in the service. Even when a loved one dies from addiction, you can make the service a reflection of their life. Decide who will officiate the funeral and who will speak. Loved ones close to the deceased person may want to share a few words about their loved one.
WRITE THE EULOGY
Decide what to include in the eulogy. Eulogies are an opportunity to share memories and pay tribute to the deceased. If you plan on sharing about their struggle with addiction, carefully consider how much information to share. For more information about writing a eulogy, check out our guide here.
What Feelings Will You Feel After Losing Someone To Addiction?
When you lose someone to addiction, you may feel a full range of emotions. The following are some of the emotions you may feel in the aftermath of a loved one’s death from addiction.
Denial is a normal grief response. You may have trouble grasping the fact they’ve passed away. If your loved one was in recovery, you may be in denial about how bad their addiction was or how far they’d progressed.
Denial helps you process your grief. It is a survival response that helps you cope with the shock of a loss until you’re safe to process your grief. If other family members are experiencing denial, it’s important to give them time and space to deal with the shock caused by the loss.
You may feel anger for a variety of reasons. You may be angry at your loved one for not being strong enough to break their addiction. Some people are angry at their loved one’s friends or family who didn’t intervene. It’s also natural to feel angry at those who enabled your loved one’s addiction.
In many cases, a grieving person may be angry at themselves for not doing more. Although you may have questions about what you could have or should have done, it’s important to remember that you did what you could to help your loved one. All of these different types of anger are normal to feel in the aftermath of an addiction-related death.
It’s common for people to feel guilt when a loved one passes away due to addiction. You may feel guilty for not intervening or seeing the signs of addiction. Some people feel guilty for things they said or did that may have worsened their loved one’s addiction.
Some people feel guilty for feeling relieved that their loved one has passed. If you’ve been dealing with your loved one’s addiction for a long time, it’s natural to feel some amount of relief when it’s over.
Although the idea of being relieved by another person’s death is difficult, it’s okay to have some amount of relief in the aftermath of an addiction-related death.
There’s so much stigma around addiction and addiction-related deaths. You may feel shame about your loved one’s addiction. Some people struggle to acknowledge that their loved one had an addiction. Others feel shame for breaking contact with their loved one because of their addiction.
If the deceased person is your child, you may have additional shame about your parenting decisions that led your child to addiction. Learning about addiction and how it develops may help alleviate shame.
When a loved one dies from addiction, you may fear losing others to addiction. This fear can be intensified when other loved ones suffer from the same addiction.
Some individuals have fear about their loved one’s fate after death. It’s important to talk to a trusted clergy member or spiritual advisor if you’re experiencing fear about your loved one. You may find comfort in your faith during this time.
10 Things You Can Do To Cope After Losing Someone To Addiction
When you lose someone to addiction, the emotions listed in the previous section can become overwhelming. Sadness, guilt, anger, fear, and other difficult emotions may make it difficult to function. Below are ten things you can do to cope after you lose someone to addiction.
1. BUILD A SUPPORT SYSTEM
It’s important to have a support system of people you can rely on in the aftermath of any loss. When you lose someone to addiction, it’s important to have a support system of people who can help you navigate the complicated process of mourning the death of your loved one.
If you know someone else who has lost a loved one to addiction, find out if they’d be willing to talk to you and process your grief together. Even if no one you know has suffered this type of loss, close friends and family can offer vital support during the mourning process.
2. GIVE YOURSELF TIME & SPACE TO FEEL ALL THE EMOTIONS
Don’t put limits on how long and how much you grieve. Allow yourself the time and space you need to process all of the complicated emotions around your grief.
If your workplace offers bereavement leave, consider using some of that time in the days following your loved one’s death.
If you cannot take time away from work, make sure you create space to grieve during your down time at home. Don’t force yourself to shortcut your grief or move on before you’re ready. It’s okay to feel sad or angry for a long time after your loved one’s death.
3. FIND A SUPPORT GROUP
Find a support group to help you process your loss. These groups offer a confidential environment for you to share and process your grief. You can learn from others who have walked through the same situation you’re facing now.
GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing) is a support group for people who have lost a loved one due to addiction. You can find information about meeting times and locations on their website here. They also offer great resources for people grieving the loss of a loved one to addiction.
4. FIND BOOKS ABOUT GRIEF & ADDICTION
Some people process grief best by learning all they can about the subject of their grief. There are a number of books about grief and addiction available online or at your local library.
You may find yourself particularly touched by memoirs written by loved ones of individuals who have died from drug addiction. One by One by Nicholas Bush offers perspective from a recovered drug addict who lost loved ones to opioid addiction. David Sheff’s award-winning book Beautiful Boy explores a father’s relationship with his drug-addicted son.
5. FIND A THERAPIST
There’s nothing wrong with seeking help from a qualified therapist. If you can find a therapist who specializes in grief and loss, that’s even better. A therapist will help your process the complicated emotions that accompany the loss of a loved one to addiction.
Best of all, your therapist will keep your conversations completely confidential. This is helpful when processing the darker emotions associated with the loss. Your therapist can help you process anger, shame, guilt, and depression surrounding your loss.
6. SPEAK TO A PASTOR, PRIEST OR CLERGY
Local religious leaders can help you process your grief in the context of your faith tradition. It’s important to remember that clergy have varying degrees of education and experience when it comes to counseling. You can see both a therapist and a clergy member to help you process your grief.
If you aren’t connected to a faith community, you can find a nearby church and reach out to the pastor. Most clergy are willing to help people in their community, even if that person isn’t affiliated with their local congregation.
7. REMEMBER HAPPY MEMORIES
Remembering your loved one does not always need to revolve around their untimely death caused by addiction. Remember the good times you had with your loved one, especially times before addiction took control of their life.
It may help to talk about those memories with others who loved the deceased. Taking time to voice those memories is a way you can honor your loved one’s memory, no matter what their cause of death.
8. WRITE IN A PERSONAL JOURNAL
There are some emotions surrounding your loved one’s death you may feel uncomfortable sharing with anyone else. Writing your feelings in a personal journal can help you process your loved ones death.
If you don’t want anyone to read what you’ve written, keep the journal in a secure location. You may even choose to discard or destroy the journal after a certain amount of time. What matters is taking the time to write your feelings onto paper. This can help you process difficult emotions you aren’t ready to share with anyone else.
9. INVEST IN SELF CARE
Grief can be all-consuming. Many people tend to put self-care on the back burner when they’re dealing with extreme grief. Even if you’re busy taking care of funeral arrangements for your loved one, you should take time to invest in self-care.
Make sure you’re getting plenty of exercise and rest. Eating healthy can also provide you with the energy you need while you mourn. If you’re a more introverted person, make sure you have plenty of time to be alone to process your emotions. This alone time can help you heal and meet the social demands surrounding your loved one’s death.
Once you’ve started healing from your loss, consider volunteering at a drug abuse prevention center or community center that deals with addiction. You should only take this step when you’re ready, as it can be difficult for many people grieving the loss of an addicted loved one.
How To Support A Loved One Who Lost Someone To Addiction
If you know someone who has recently lost a loved one to addiction, you may be at a loss for what to do to help. Below are a few suggestions to help you support your grieving friend.
You don’t have to know what to say. Sometimes the best thing you can do to support a grieving friend is to show up and be present. This includes being available for phone calls, visiting with them in their home, taking them out for a meal, or sending them a message online.
People often don’t know what to ask for when they’re grieving. Instead of saying, “Let me know if you need anything,” tell them that you’re willing to do something specific. For example, you may say, “I’d be happy to bring a meal over for you and your kids tomorrow night. Do you have any dietary restrictions?”
LISTEN TO THEM
People need kind, compassionate people to listen to them while they process grief. Make yourself available to listen to your friend as he or she processes their loss. Whether they want to share memories or express difficult emotions, your listening ear is a meaningful way to support a grieving friend.
DON'T JUDGE CRITICAL FEELINGS
Your friend may have a wide range of feelings. They may blame themselves for their loved one’s death or they may feel relief that their loved one is gone. No matter what they’re feeling, it’s important to avoid invalidating their feelings.
Resist the urge to offer a “bright side” to their situation. Saying that things could be worse or otherwise invalidating their feelings can do more harm than good. If they want advice, they will ask for it. Your job as their friend is to offer a non-judgmental listening ear.
EXPRESS GENUINE SYMPATHY
Let your friend know you care about them and their loss. You may something like, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” No matter what you say, make sure your loved one knows your words come from a place of genuine sympathy and compassion. No one wants to feel like your words come from a sense of obligation.
REMIND THEM TO PRACTICE SELF CARE
Grieving people often forget to take care of themselves. When a person is consumed with grief, they may forget to eat or sleep. Encourage your loved one to get food and rest in the aftermath of their loss.
If your friend has young children, you may offer to watch their children while they spend some time alone processing their grief. People often fail to ask for this type of help, but offering this support may give them the space they need to take care of themselves.
ACCOMPANY YOUR FRIEND
Go with your friend to important appointments or meetings related to the loss of their loved one. If they need to talk to police, take care of funeral arrangements, or deal with their loved one’s possessions, they may appreciate a helping hand. You may not know what to do or say, but offering your presence can help them bolster themselves for the difficult tasks ahead.
ATTEND THE FUNERAL
Even if you don’t know the deceased loved one, attending a funeral is a good way to show love and support for a friend who has recently lost a loved one to addiction. If there is a public funeral, make every effort to attend the funeral.
MEET PHYSICAL NEEDS
Offer to prepare a meal or watch their kids. If they need help making funeral arrangements, offer to call the funeral home or arrange for flowers. The demands of planning a funeral while coping with grief can often overwhelm people. You can take burdens off their plate by tending to these needs.
Many people grieve as much at the anniversary of a loss as they did in the days following their loved one’s death. Make sure to remember these anniversaries and extend the same care during this time.
Unfortunately, sometimes drug-related deaths may make these anniversaries hazy. In some cases, the loved one’s body may not be found for several days, making it difficult to pinpoint their time of death. Even if your friend doesn’t know the exact time their loved one died, remember them as the anniversary of the funeral rolls around.
Losing A Loved One To Addiction Frequently Asked Questions
What do I say about someone who died from addiction?
What you say about your deceased loved one is up to you and their close relatives. While some people choose to keep the cause of death quiet, others find it helpful to give an honest account of their loved one’s life and death.
If you plan to share about your loved one’s addiction, it’s important to share information that gives people a full picture of who that person was. Share the same information as you would if your loved one died from natural causes: early life, career, hobbies, relationships, marriage, and other significant accomplishments. Although addiction ended their life, it does not have to be the centerpiece of every conversation about them.
How do I tell a child that a loved one died from addiction?
Telling a child about a death is difficult, no matter what the circumstances. Because children often take things more literally than adults, it’s important to give them factual and clear information about how their loved one died. For example, you might tell a child that their loved on died because they took too many drugs or drank too much alcohol.
Your child may have questions. It’s important to answer these in clear, age-appropriate ways. For more information about telling a child about a loved one’s drug-related death, read the guide from Our House here.
How does the loss of an addict affect the family?
The loss of a drug addict can affect families in a variety of ways. Because people have different responses to grief, members within a family can have varied responses to their loved one’s death.
It’s important to remember that grief can often cause difficult feelings such as guilt and anger. Some individuals may blame members of their family for their loved one’s death. When voiced out loud, these feelings can cause serious division. If your family is struggling in the aftermath of a loved one’s drug-related death, reach out to a qualified family therapist for guidance.
What if I am relieved that a family member has died after suffering from addiction?
Although you may feel guilty for feeling relieved that a family member has died from their addiction, relief is a common feeling after this type of death. Addiction causes serious problems in family relationships. Because of their addiction, your loved one may have stolen from you, said vicious things, or caused other conflict in your family.
It’s important that you remember that relief is not the only emotion you’re feeling in the aftermath of a drug-related death. Even if you feel relieved, you may still feel saddened by the loss. Remember that a full range of emotions is possible when you lose someone to addiction.
Should you have a funeral and invite people if someone dies from addiction?
Whether you have a funeral for a deceased loved on is up to the closest family and friends of the deceased. If your loved one indicated a preference concerning funeral arrangements, do what you can to honor their wishes.
People handle funeral arrangements and invitations differently. While some families may choose a small, private funeral, others invite members of the community to remember their deceased loved one. Consider the feelings of all parties involved when making this important decision.
Should I mention a loved one's addiction in the
If your loved one died because of their drug use, you may choose to share information about addiction in their obituary. While some families choose to keep the cause of death private, many families use it as an opportunity to raise awareness.
Consult those closest to the deceased to make a decision about including information about addiction in their obituary. If the deceased person had loved ones who still suffer from addiction, your openness may be the push they need to get help. Informing people about the warning signs of addiction may help them take action to help the addicts in their lives.
How do you move on from losing someone to addiction?
Moving on after you lose a loved one to addiction is no easy task. It may take years or even decades. In some sense, you may not ever fully “move on.” However, giving yourself space to grieve and seeking support from loved ones can help you return to your normal daily activities.
In many cases, professional counseling or therapy is helpful in the aftermath of a drug-related death. A qualified mental health professional can help your process the difficult emotions surrounding your loved one’s death.
Saying Good-bye When They've Gone Too Soon
If you’ve lost a loved one to addiction, you know that the grief surrounding this type of loss is unique. Although you may experience a full range of emotions, your love for the deceased does not change.
This type of loss raises many questions about obituaries, funeral preparations, and the grieving process. Find supportive friends, therapists, and clergy to help you process your grief.
November 28, 2021 by Jeri K. Augustus