Losing a loved one is never easy, but it’s often more complex when the person who passed away had a history with addiction. Along with the trauma of the death itself, the stigma surrounding addiction adds layers of complication for surviving family members and friends.
The state of Ohio has long grappled with the devastating reality of substance abuse, and the death toll is showing no signs of slowing. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports Ohio ranks among the top five states with the highest rates of opioid-related deaths. This epidemic is impacting communities everywhere, including Northeast Ohio.
In an effort to raise awareness for this issue, our family has partnered with Greater Than Heroin, a dedicated resource for those battling and coping with addiction.
If you or someone you know has lost a loved one to opioid-related addiction, we’re here to help. With ample resources available, you and your family can learn how to cope with the loss of your loved one, plus tips for advocating on their behalf.
1. Give yourself time to heal.
In the days, weeks and months following your loss, it’s important to remember the grieving process has no set timeline. Grief unveils itself in many forms, so you need to give yourself time to heal.
Families who have lost a loved one to opioid overdose have to first learn how to process the trauma before they’re able to deal with grief. It’s common for surviving family members to blame themselves after losing a loved one to addiction. They feel that they could have or should have done something to prevent the loss. This creates an array of complicated emotions.
If you start to feel this kind of self-blame, remind yourself that it’s not your fault that your loved one was an addict.
2. Join a support group.
If you’re experiencing grief following the loss of a loved one to addiction, you don’t have to go at it alone. A support group can help to normalize the grieving process.
Cornerstone of Hope offers a support group for families that have lost a loved one to addiction. Accidental overdose can leave friends and family members of the deceased with many unanswered questions. This group is designed to connect individuals who are going through or have gone through similar losses to provide helpful insight into moving forward with hope.
3. Educate others on the dangers of drug addiction.
Addiction can touch anyone, anywhere. Yet, many families aren’t equipped to know how to help a loved one with addiction.
When it comes to education, it’s important for everyone to understand addiction for what it truly is—a disease.
Educating others on the dangers of opioids and drug abuse can be a cathartic way to cope with your own loss. Education can start with parents teaching their children about drug addiction and the associated risks. This may also include educating others on how to deal with a family member or friend who is struggling with addiction, how to be supportive during the rehabilitation process or what signs to look out for if you suspect drug abuse.
Unfortunately, the stigma that surrounds addiction can impact the public’s willingness to learn about drug dependency. Educational programs that display non-stigmatizing behaviors can help people provide compassionate support to addicts.
4. Advocate on behalf of your love one.
The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) is a huge milestone in combating the opioid crisis, but there’s more work to be done to put the necessary programs in place. You can start by advocating to leaders at the local, state and federal level to strengthen prevention programs.
Greater Than Heroin also offers advocacy resources, including “Write My Letter” to bring light to the growing opioid epidemic in our state. Individuals can advocate for an increase in funding to local treatment centers, as well as greater prevention and education efforts in local schools.
Although the impact of opioids differ from community to community, solutions are more effective when coordinated among the various governments.
>>>Related Resource: Join the Coalition to bring hope and healing to our region.
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In the days, weeks and months following a loss, it’s important to remember the grieving process has no set timeline. To help guide you through your grief journey, we encourage you to subscribe to our weekly grief support newsletter, A Journey Towards Healing. When you subscribe, you’ll receive weekly emails of encouragement across an entire year of your grief journey.
Editor's Note: This post was approved by Father Bob Stec of Saint Ambrose Catholic Parish for accuracy.