When the Opioid Crisis Hits Home: Grief After an Overdose

Grief is a universal response to loss, but it’s a complicated emotion. When a loved one dies, it can be hard to process your grief. If the person dies of an overdose, the grief may be overwhelming  

On top of the pain of loss, you may also feel guilt and shame. People can tell you it wasn’t your fault, and you might believe them — but especially if you’ve been invested in helping the person overcome addiction, the death might make you feel you have failed. It might also make you fearful, anxious or concerned about losing another family member or friend. And it may be hard not to look for someone to blame, especially if you feel isolated by the social stigma attached to the manner of death.  

Sadly, overdose is not uncommon these days. Your task now is to grieve the loss and find a way to get through it. Don’t let the stigma of the death keep you from mourning fully. It’s important to take time to remember this unique person who was loved.  

Take care of yourself during this difficult time, paying attention to your physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Accept the help of friends and family, and consider reaching out for support from organizations in your community.  

If you have not lost someone to an overdose but you know someone who has, you have the opportunity to make a difference for that person.  

  • Be there for your friend. Reach out, even if you aren’t sure what to say and even if you feel uncomfortable. Sometimes your presence is the best gift.  
  • Listen without judgment. Encourage your friend to talk about his or her loved one, and avoid making statements that might perpetuate the stigma they may already feel keenly. Just listen, and if it’s appropriate, share stories of your memories of the person who has died. Saying his or her name will let your friend know that this unique person will not be forgotten.  
  • Avoid saying you know how your friend feels. There’s no way you could know the pain your friend is experiencing, so a better thing to say is, “I’m sorry” or “I’m here for you.” 
  • Help in practical ways. Life goes on even after a terrible loss. See how you can help your friend, whether it’s by bringing groceries or a meal, offering childcare, helping around the house or helping to sort through their loved one’s belongings.  
  • Encourage self-care. It’s important for your friend to get enough sleep and maintain a healthy diet. It’s also important to accept help, seek support and avoid being isolated. You can help with all of these things, so pay attention to what is going on with your friend.  

If you’re struggling with grief, Evergreen wants to help with online support, no matter what time of day you need it. You’ll find counseling services, group grief support and interactive videos online, and we can provide aftercare for those who have suffered a loss. Call (520) 399-6652 to learn how we can help.