Coping with the loss of a loved one from a drug or alcohol-related overdose

The loss of a loved one is never an easy topic, regardless of the contributing circumstances. If you have lost a loved one to a drug or alcohol-related overdose, we at the 12 Keys Rehab extend our deepest sympathies to you.

During this difficult period, please give yourself time to grieve. As you know, your life will be changed forever. Grief recovery is a process that can take a long time for you to heal emotionally. Please be patient with yourself and accept the various emotions that you will experience. You will likely experience many different emotions that will include sadness, anger and self-blame. It is important to remind yourself that the passing of a loved one due to an overdose is not your fault. You, as a loved one, can only provide support to another. You cannot control or change another.

The Five Stages of Grief

In the the late 1960’s, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first introduced the five stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying. These five stages have become the benchmark in grief recovery counseling. It is important to note that each individual will experience grief somewhat differently. The stages do not necessarily follow a particular order, but instead identify phases generally experienced throughout the grief recovery process. The five stages of grief recovery are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

  • Denial

In denial, you are in shock and trying to get through day-to-day living. You may try to disregard the situation and ask yourself, “Is this really happening?” In this stage, you may not be ready to fully accept that your loved one has passed.

  • Anger
    After accepting the reality of the situation, you may become angry and look for individuals to blame. You may become angry with yourself when the situation that was not your fault. Anger can be misdirected at others and subconsciously used as a means to control or hide the pain you are feeling. It is natural to feel anger when you have lost a loved one. By accepting your anger and releasing it, the anger will fade over time.

  • Bargaining
    In this stage of bargaining, an individual will play the “what if” game. You may ask yourself repeatedly, “What if” you had done this or that, would the loved one still be here? You may replay the past over and over to try and write a happy ending. Guilt can plague the individual in this stage. Ultimately, you will realize that no amount of bargaining can change the past. You have today and the future to focus on. Guilt and bargaining will begin to fade as you continue moving through the grief process and accept the loss of a loved one.

  • Depression
    In this stage, the grief can become overwhelming. You’ve experienced denial, anger and bargaining, but the pain still nags you. In depression, you may tend to withdrawal from life, sleep more, eat more or less than usual, and feel sad, numb and hopeless from time to time. Depression is a normal response to the loss of a loved one and a necessary stage for grief recovery. Please allow yourself to move through these emotions, giving yourself time to grieve and heal.

  • Acceptance
    In acceptance, the depression begins to lift. Hopeful thoughts return and you gain the willpower to move forward in life. Acceptance is not forgetting the loss. Acceptance is a healthy closure to the grief recovery process in which the individual accepts the loss occurred and the situations surrounding the loss. The individual accept that circumstances were beyond his or her control. Acceptance enables the individual to pick up the pieces and begin living again.

Resources for Grief Recovery

  • GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing):
  • Bereaved Parents of the USA:
  • Griefnet:

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