By: Mark Lamplugh 28 Aug 2017

On August 31st of every year, thousands of families gather and participate in International Overdose Awareness Day. This is a global event that is designed to raise awareness about the risks of drug use and overdose and reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths. It’s a time for families to acknowledge their grief over the death or permanent injury of someone they love as a result of an overdose. Most of them never imagined that they could lose someone they loved to addiction.

More people will join the forces to raise awareness, and combat addiction as the rates of substance abuse and overdose continue to rise across the globe. The loss of a loved one to overdose leaves a profound impact on the lives of those who get left behind. They experience a host of other emotions in addition to grief and sorrow. Family counseling and support groups help families deal with the shock and emotional aftermath after losing someone to addiction.

Statistics on Overdose

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers reports about deaths from drug overdose since 1999 and vital statistics for 2015. Their research shows that the rate of drug overdose deaths in 2015 was more than 2.5 times the rate in 1999. Their studies show increases in both genders, age groups, and ethnicities.

Deaths in men from overdose are up from 8.2% in 1999 to 20.8% in 2015. Women have historically lower rates of overdose than men, but rates of overdose in women also continue to climb. In 1999, about 3.9% of women lost their lives to overdose, and the rate increased to 11.8% in 2015.

While all age groups are seeing an increase in death due to overdose, the largest percentage increase falls in the 55-64 age group for adults. Pre-retirees were five times as likely to die from overdose with an increase of 4.2% per 100,000 people in 1999 to 21.8% in 2015.

Deaths by overdose among non-Hispanic black people increased from 7.5% per 100,000 people in 1999 to 12.2% in 2015. Hispanic people also showed an increased in deaths by overdose from 5.4% in 1999 to 7.7% in 2015. The highest increase in death by overdose is non-Hispanic white people, which rose by an astounding 240% between 1999 and 2015.

CDC reports changes in the pattern of drugs that caused drug overdoses. Overdoses from natural and semisynthetic opioids decreased by 5% from 2010 to 2015. Overdoses by methadone dropped about half for the same period. While these drugs are on the decline, deaths due to heroin overdose show an alarming increase from 8% to 25% between 2010 and 2015.

Overdose Affects Entire Families

The after-effects of losing a family member or close friend to overdose catch many people by surprise. People expect to feel shocked and sorrow when someone passes away, but friends and relatives of those who grieve over the loss of someone due to an overdose experience greater emotional turmoil.

Family members begin to review their part in how they managed the relationship with their loved one, including the toll that it took on their family relationships, finances, and health. Grief counseling by addiction professionals can help those left behind to work through their grief.

Many families make longstanding financial sacrifices to help a loved one with an addiction. They often start out by paying the cost of detoxification or outpatient treatment programs. Addiction is a disease that sometimes requires multiple attempts with various treatment programs. As their loved one relapses, family members dig deeper into their finances including their retirement plans and other investments. Perhaps they’ve taken out a loan or second mortgage on their home. Some families even resort to selling family heirlooms or other valuable possessions to cover the cost of treatment.

Continued substance abuse forces families to make difficult decisions about how they allot time and money to deal with someone’s addiction.

Siblings of people with addiction have a particularly hard time. While they love can care for their sibling, they often feel overshadowed by the time, attention and finances that parents give to their sibling needing help. It’s common for siblings to feel jealousy and resentment.

Families who don’t have addicted family members often disagree on how to spend or save their money. Families that need to make choices between what is helping and what is enabling someone with an addiction struggle even more with dissenting opinions about how to allocate their finances.

Differing opinions causes much familial tension. Some members deal with disagreements by exhibiting much of the same behavior as the addicted behavior by resorting to lying and stealing to pay for treatment or prevent the addicted person from becoming homeless.

Addiction and chronic worry about overdose affect the emotional and physical health of family members. Excessive worry causes sleeplessness, poor hygiene and diet, and lack of exercise. Physical health problems often lead to other problems like anxiety, depression, or other physical health concerns.
Supporting Someone Who Lost a Loved One Due to Overdose
The grief over losing someone due to an overdose is more complicated than a death over an accident, illness, or old age.

Family members who lose someone due to overdose experience hurt, anger, and resentment on top of normal sorrow and grief over death. They may feel extreme guilt over enabling the person’s addiction or not being able to help them recover. If their loved one betrayed them by lying to them or stealing from them, resentment grows. While family members and friends are feeling extreme sadness over their loss, they may also feel somewhat relieved that their loved one is no longer struggling or in pain, which makes them feel even more conflicted.

Wakes, funerals, and celebrations of life can also be hard. Family members may have a hard time revealing the real source of death due to the stigma around substance abuse and overdose. Family members often feel judged and made to feel that they were bad parents or that they had a sick kid.

It’s important to know that grieving family members are experiencing a complicated set of emotions. Offer the same degree and level of support that you would if the person had passed away for some other reason.
And bring the casserole.

Getting Professional Help

One of the best things that you can do to support someone who has lost a loved one due to addiction is to encourage them to seek professional grief counseling. The counselors at Advanced Health & Education and Cedar Point Recovery offer professional advice for the complex needs of people unexpectedly dealing with overdose. Advisors can help families understand that addiction is a disease that affects the whole family. Grief sessions help each family member to express their needs in a safe environment and restore the familial balance and harmony.

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