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How To Help Support Those Who Have Lost a Loved One to Addiction

After a death from drugs in the family, it is normal for relatives and loved ones to grieve. However, supporting people who are going through drug-related bereavement can be complicated.

While there may be beautiful memories of positive experiences with the loved one who has died, there may also be traumatic memories from negative experiences, too, including the distress caused by seeing the loved one intoxicated or violent, financial problems which may have affected the family, their possible history of physical or emotional abuse, legal problems or difficulties with other relationships. The loss of a friend or family members from drugs is particularly painful if the person was young, and otherwise healthy.

Despite the negativity, you can still find a way to be supportive to someone who has lost a relative or loved one to drug addiction. People often wonder how to give support. Try finding inspiration from the list of suggestions below.

Be Present

You can do this by being physically present and helping them feel less isolated. For example:

  • go for a visit to spend time with them
  • be available for phone calls
  • respond promptly to email messages
  • send a card, letter, or flowers
  • go to a memorial
  • share a memory
  • reach out to them on a holiday or milestone. Those days are especially difficult and they want their loved one to be remembered


Worry less about saying the “right” thing, and more on allowing the person to speak about their experience, if they choose to.  Listening involves giving the person your full attention while allowing them space to speak without interruption.

Express Sympathy, But Not False Empathy

Saying “I’m sorry you’re going through this,” may be more supportive than comments like, “I understand how you feel.” Even if you have lost someone to a death, the experiences and relationships are likely to have been quite different, so expressing understanding you don’t have may be alienating to the bereaved person.

Express genuine empathy around universal human emotions that may be part of grief, such as:

  • anger
  • sadness
  • disappointment
  • regret

Stay Neutral

Staying neutral can be tricky, especially if you had negative experiences with, or opinions about the deceased. But it is more supportive to express no judgement or negative feelings about the person who has died, even if the bereaved does so.

If the bereaved talk about how cruel and abusive the addicted person was, express concern for them, for example, by saying,”That must have been so hard for you,” rather than, “I don’t know why you put up with that idiot.”

This allows the bereaved to come to terms with their own feelings, and to accept their own reasons for the way they handled the relationship, whether or not you feel they were correct.

Do not tell them to “get over it” or to “move on.”.  It marginalizes the death of their loved one.

Encourage and Support Self Care

Grief and depression can sometimes get in the way of people taking proper care of themselves. Regular sleep, meals, and exercise may fall by the wayside.

The bereaved may stop practicing good personal hygiene and may fail to keep their home clean and tidy.  Be encouraging and helpful in a kind, uncritical way.

Help With Practicalities

There are many daily tasks a grieving person may neglect because they feel depressed or can’t find the energy.

You can be supportive by:

  • babysitting
  • preparing a meal
  • helping with household chores

There may be additional practicalities to take care of, that can seem overwhelming to the bereaved, such as:

  • informing friends and family of the death
  • making arrangements for the funeral
  • dealing with doctors, lawyers and inheritance issues
  • dealing with unresolved legal issues arising from the addiction, such as debt, or issues around the death from drugs itself

Accompany the Person to Difficult Events

There may be events following the death of someone with an addiction that will be very difficult for the bereaved person. To be supportive, you can offer to accompany them to:

  • make statements to the police or to reporters
  • talk to doctors, funeral directors, and lawyers
  • a court proceeding

Respect the bereaved wishes if they want to be alone  

An invitation to a social event might be well-intentioned but the bereaved might not be up for it.  They might leave abruptly. Do not take it personally. The bereaved might want to be alone to cry or even be angry at times.  The bereaved person needs to grieve in their own way and their own time

Avoid Burnout

It can be hard offering support to someone who has lost an addicted loved one. Emotions can run high, and it can be quite draining trying to help. But your loyalty is important.

If you feel overwhelmed yourself, back off and take a break. Don’t allow resentment to mount, and then vent to someone else about the bereaved person. If they find out, this may be more hurtful to the bereaved person than if you hadn’t tried to support them in the first place