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When You’ve Lost Someone Who Overdosed

Grief:  \ ˈgrēf \ noun

  • Deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement
  • A cause of such suffering

Along your recovery journey, you may have known, or have gotten to know others, who have died from an overdose. The grief from this loss can bring up complex feelings and may add challenges to your own healing. It may feel daunting to not only process the death of a loved one but also process how this affects your own recovery and ability to avoid falling into the pitfalls of addiction again.

There is No Right Way to Grieve 

The grieving process is different for everyone and can manifest itself in unique ways depending on the individual. 

It is normal to experience a range of emotions including:

  • Sadness 
  • Anger
  • Shame
  • Resentment
  • Relief
  • Apathy
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • And many others

These feelings can arise suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere; they can rapidly fluctuate or even co-exist together. You may feel sadness that your friend is longer with you, anger at the role they played in using substances, guilt that you were not able to “save” them, relief that they are free from pain, and hopelessness about your own road to recovery. 

It is a layered and complicated process dealing with the aftermath of a death by overdose, particularly if you yourself are familiar with the difficulties of substance use and working towards sobriety.

Ways to Work Through the Grieving Process

  1. Suspend self-criticism and judgment on how you are experiencing griefthere is no “right way” to grieve. There is no timeline for grief, so try to remove any expectations you may have regarding how long you should grieve. 
  2. Practice self-compassion and acceptance – Know that it is normal to feel overwhelmed and that unexpected emotions may arise throughout the process. Give yourself permission to feel all of these and trust the process. 
  3. Seek support – not only is it important to find resources to help process the loss, but to also have support navigating how this affects your own recovery journey. Find a grief support group, talk to a mental health professional, and spend time with loved ones. Riviera Recovery is here to walk alongside you during this trying time. 
  4. Practice self-care – Continue to incorporate healthy habits into your routine to ensure that you are caring for your basic needs. Eat nourishing meals, spend some time in nature, stay physically active, and maintain a healthy sleep schedule. Caring for yourself in these foundational ways helps you to support yourself throughout the grieving process. 
  5. Acknowledge and express your feelings – Release your emotions in a healthy manner by talking with a trusted individual, journaling, creating art or music, or through body movement. Set aside time to check in with yourself about how you’re feeling and what you can do to process these emotions. 
  6. Honor the person you lost – Mourn your loved one by looking at photos, revisiting memories, sharing fond stories, or attending a service. 

The road to recovery is a challenging one, and losing someone to an overdose may bring up increased feelings of hopelessness and despair. Know that this is normal and that there is support to guide you during the overwhelming process of grieving while maintaining sobriety.

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