Recovery from addiction is possible, and many people who seek treatment end up leading healthy, fulfilling lives in recovery. However, the reality of addiction is that it can be a progressive and deadly disease. Many Americans know someone who is struggling or has struggled with addiction, and many know someone who has died as a direct result of their addiction.

In this article, you will learn:

  • About the drug overdose epidemic in America
  • Six tips for coping with the loss of someone struggling with addiction
  • Where to find support when grieving an addiction loss

The Scope of the Drug Overdose Epidemic

More than 100,000 people die each year as a result of a drug overdose and 187 people die each day as a result of an opioid overdose.[1,2] While the majority of drug overdose deaths involve synthetic opioids like fentanyl, anyone who abuses drugs of any kind is at risk of an overdose.

Studies have found that 42.4% of Americans personally know at least one person who died of an overdose and 18.9% said they knew two to five people.[3] Whether it’s a friend, family member, coworker, or neighbor, drug overdose can have significant and damaging effects on loved ones.

How to Cope When a Loved One Dies as a Result of Drug or Alcohol Addiction

Grieving an addiction loss is not easy to do. Here are six tips for coping when someone you love dies as a result of their addiction.

1. Extend patience to yourself

Grief is a process that takes time. And, different people grieve in different ways at different speeds. You may feel pressure to feel better or get back to your daily life, but it’s important to be patient with yourself while grieving the death of a loved one.

Remember, the grieving process is not a race—what matters is that you take care of yourself and permit yourself the time to grieve. Don’t compare yourself to another person’s grieving process.

2. Express the way you feel

The best way to process and overcome painful emotions is to express them. Freely expressing your emotions is a way of processing them. Don’t be afraid to cry and tell others just how hurt you feel. Don’t feel like you have to stuff your feelings down or act happy when you really aren’t.

Find healthy ways to express your emotions, such as by talking to a therapist, confiding in a trusted friend, journaling, doing art, writing a goodbye letter, or other self-expression activities.

3. Reach out for support

Having a strong support network around you is essential when grieving an addiction loss. Let your friends and family know that you’ll need support during this time. It may also be helpful to take some time off work and other responsibilities so you can take the time you need to grieve.

If you don’t have support from family and friends, grief counseling groups are available to you. For example, Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing (GRASP), is a nationwide support group dedicated to those who have lost a loved one through addiction and/or overdose.

4. Forgive yourself

Be sure to remind yourself that the death of your loved one is not your fault. Remind yourself of the three C’s:

  • I didn’t cause it
  • I can’t cure it
  • I can’t control it

You are not the reason for your loved one’s addiction struggles, and as much as you’d like to be able to control them, you can’t do that either. Addiction is a medical disease—no one is at fault for it.

Try to avoid spending time ruminating on things you could’ve done differently. In the end, you did the best you could at the time, and you’re not in control of other people’s life trajectories. As a result, it’s essential to extend forgiveness to yourself, no matter how much you want to find someone to blame.

5. Reignite your passions

When you lose someone you love, it feels like losing a little bit of yourself. All of the sudden, the world seems a bit dimmer, and it feels like life will never be the same as before.

While acknowledging the way loss makes you feel and making space to grieve it is essential, you can’t give up on the things that make you, you. Once you’ve processed the initial shock, don’t hesitate to jump back into the hobbies and activities that you enjoy. Remember that your loved one would want you to be happy.

6. Embrace healthy distractions

It can be easy to get stuck in grief. People sometimes turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as locking themselves in their homes, isolating themselves from loved ones, engaging in reckless behavior, or even abusing drugs and alcohol to cope.

Instead, try to embrace healthy distractions. Some ideas include:

  • Calling a loved one
  • Going to the park
  • Playing with your pet
  • Visiting a place your late loved one enjoyed
  • Exercising
  • Reading a book
  • Watching your favorite film
  • Drawing or painting
  • Volunteering in your community
  • Going to a sports game or the theater
  • Visiting a local museum
  • Cleaning your home
  • Going shopping

Healthy distractions can help pull you out of depressed moods and elevate your spirit.

Find Support

At First Step, we’ve seen firsthand just how devastating the loss of a loved one who was struggling with addiction can be. Our programs are dedicated to supporting clients and their loved ones during an addiction loss with comprehensive grief support services and therapies.

Whether you’re struggling with addiction or need resources for someone who is, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our caring staff at First Step Behavioral Health. We’re available 24 hours a day and are eager to help.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Drug Overdose Death Rates
  2. UT Southwestern Medical Center: UTSW Q&A: Experts talk about opioid abuse, risks, treatment
  3. University of Kentucky College of Social Work: More than 40% of Americans know someone who died from drug overdose, UK researcher finds

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