Process The Death Of A Loved One To Addiction

How to Process the Death of a Loved One to Addiction

The death of a loved one can be really hard, especially if it’s due to addiction. They can’t help but think that’s an untimely cause since the person would likely be alive if it weren’t for substance abuse.

While this holds some credence, the fact of the matter is there’s nothing else you can do but to process this person’s death. Below are some helpful ways on how to do so.

How to Process the Death of a Loved One to Addiction

The Sad Statistics

A loved one dying from addiction is an issue that most people face every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 67,000 people died from a drug overdose in 2018. This has made drug-related deaths the number 1 cause of mortality in Americans under the age of 50 (25-44 age bracket).

Most deaths occur in the Northeast and Midwest, although death rates in the South and West are steadily increasing. While the number of deaths has decreased compared to 2017 (20.7 vs. 21.7 per 100,000), it’s still an alarming number.

Most of the deaths are due to opioids – which account for 69.5% of all the cases. Most mortalities involve synthetic opioids such as Fentanyl, Methadone, and Buprenorphine.

The Emotions Involved After a Loved One Dies from Addiction

Grief is a complex reaction that comes after death. It brings about a myriad of emotions, such as:

  • Sadness, because you are unable to formally say goodbye to your loved one
  • Anger at the deceased, maybe even yourself or anybody else who might have caused his/her addiction
  • Guilt, as you blame yourself and others over what had happened – and what didn’t (what if’s)
  • The shame of having a loved one who passed from addiction
  • Loneliness because of the reluctance to reach out to others in this troubling time
  • Frustration that emergency responders weren’t able to reach your loved one in time – or that hospital personnel weren’t able to revive him/her 
  • Fear that somebody else might die
  • Relief for some, as they no longer have to worry about receiving any more addiction-related news

Stages of Grief

Sadness, because you are unable to formally say goodbye to your loved one

Whether it’s due to addiction or any other natural cause, the death of a loved one brings about the 5 stages of grief. Learning about them is the key to processing the above-mentioned emotions – and getting over them.

1. Denial

Upon receiving the news of the demise, loved ones usually go through the phase of denying the event. This is especially the case for unexpected deaths, such as the ones stemming from addiction.

2. Anger

After denial, the bereaved move to the stage of anger. Here, the person may end up blaming everybody – family, friends, dealers, even society in general.

3. Bargaining

Once anger is under control, the bereaved proceeds with ‘bargaining’ with the situation. This is the time when many if-only’s come to mind. “If only we had talked to him/her sooner” or “If we had sent him/her to rehab…

4. Depression

As the bereaved realizes that he/she has no power to change the situation, he/she moves to the stage of depression. This is usually the longest phase, as it is often characterized by a lack of sense of direction. While talking to family and friends is sure to help during this phase, it wouldn’t hurt to seek a psychologist as well.

5. Acceptance

This pinnacle is often hard to achieve, but it can be done. While there’s no set path on reaching acceptance, it will help to remember 2 things. One is that your loved one is already in a better and place. Second is there’s nothing you could have done that would have changed the course of the event.

How to Process an Addiction-Related Death

talk with family members

It’s hard to process death – whether it’s due to addiction or not. However, you will be able to do this as long as you:

1. Accept the Reality of Death

The only way to move on is to acknowledge the fact that it’s done. The sad fact is that the people who are left behind are powerless and there’s nothing else they can do to reverse it. Even if you have all the money in the world, it’s useless right now.

2. Honor the Person

No matter how unglamorous your loved one’s circumstances may be, honor the fact that you love him/her. Don’t let this passing alter your feelings for him/her. At the end of the day, he/she is still the person you treasure and cherish.

3. Voice Out Your Feelings

It’s best to talk with family members and friends regarding your loved one’s death. Their comforting words can help you get through this dark time.

4. Educate Yourself

If you are not familiar with the mechanisms of addiction, then it’s time for you to learn about them. At the GRASP (Grief Recovery after a substance passing) website, you can access resources about addiction – and how you could go about with it.  By understanding this complex process, you’ll be better able to address your issues of blame and guilt.

5. Divert Your Attention

It’s hard to cope with a death, especially when you’re alone and have nothing else to do. As such, it’s best if you set your sights on a constructive activity. Maybe you’ve been putting off taking art classes – or going on a road trip. Working on any of these passions will help divert your attention over the sad passing of the loved one.

Remember – if he/she were alive, he/she would’ve wanted you to do that thing anyway.

6. Attend a Support Group

If the pain is too much to bear, you can always find refuge in a group that has experienced the same thing. Make sure to check for a GRASP meeting in your area. With the help of a counselor, you and other people who experience the same thing can work on empowering each other.


Drug-related death is the number 1 cause of mortality in Americans under 50. This can be particularly hard for loved ones, who feel sad, angry, guilty, and frustrated over the events. Although this is the case, accepting death can be done through a variety of coping mechanisms.

Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)