Being Supportive after a Drug Death in the Family

After a Death From Drugs, Be Supportive and Listen

After a death from drugs in the family, it is normal for relatives and loved ones to grieve. However, supporting the bereaved can get complicated.

Of course, there are beautiful memories of positive experiences with the loved one who's passed. But you likely have traumatic memories of a number of negative experiences, too, including the deceased's history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, legal problems or difficulties with other social relationships.

Despite the negativity, you can still find a way to be supportive to someone who has lost a loved to drug addiction. Try finding inspiration from the list of thoughtful suggestions below.

Be Present

supportive friend holding hands
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When trying to support someone who has just lost a relative or loved one to a death from drugs, people often wonder how to give support and struggle for those magic words that will take away the pain. 

You can do this by being physically present and helping them feel less isolated. For example:

  • go for a visit to spend time with them
  • be available for phone calls
  • respond promptly to email messages
  • send a card, letter, or flowers


Worry less about saying the "right" thing, and more on allowing the person to speak about their experience, if they choose to.  Listening involves giving the person your full attention while allowing them space to speak without interruption.  

Accept the Person's Feelings

A loved one bereaved by a death from drugs is likely to have even more complex and contradictory feelings than other bereaved people.  They may feel:

  • liberation or relief that the addict will no longer overshadow their life with the unpredictability and abuse 
  • extreme sadness about what might have been if the deceased had gotten clean
  • guilt about the times they wished it could all be over
  • somehow responsible for bringing about the death of their loved one  

None of these feelings are wrong, and your acceptance will help your friend to process them.

Express Sympathy, But Not False Empathy

Saying "I'm sorry you're going through this," may be more supportive than comments like, "I understand how you feel." Even if you have lost someone to a death from drugs, the experiences and relationships are likely to have been quite different, so expressing understanding you don't have may be alienating to the bereaved person. 

Express genuine empathy around universal human emotions that may be part of grief, such as:

  • anger
  • sadness
  • disappointment
  • regret

Stay Neutral

Staying neutral can be tricky, especially if you had negative experiences with, or opinions about the deceased. But it is more supportive to express no judgement or negative feelings about the person who has died, even if the bereaved does so.

If the bereaved talk about how cruel and abusive the addicted person was, express concern for them, for example, by saying,"That must have been so hard for you," rather than, "I don't know why you put up with that idiot."

This allows the bereaved to come to terms with their own feelings, and to accept their own reasons for the way they handled the relationship, whether or not you feel they were correct.

Encourage and Support Self Care

Grief and depression can sometimes get in the way of people taking proper care of themselves. Regular sleep, meals, and exercise may fall by the wayside. 

The bereaved may stop practicing good personal hygiene and may fail to keep their home clean and tidy.  Be encouraging and helpful in a kind, uncritical way. 

Help With Practicalities

There are many daily tasks a grieving person may neglect because they feel depressed or can't find the energy.

You can be supportive by:

  • babysitting
  • preparing a meal
  • helping with household chores

There may be additional practicalities to take care of, that can seem overwhelming to the bereaved, such as:

  • informing friends and family of the death
  • making arrangements for the funeral
  • dealing with doctors, lawyers and inheritance issues
  • dealing with unresolved legal issues arising from the addiction, such as debt, or issues around the death from drugs itself

Avoid Burnout

It can be hard offering support to someone who has lost an addicted loved one. Emotions can run high, and it can be quite draining trying to help. But your loyalty is important.

If you feel overwhelmed yourself, back off and take a break. Don't allow resentment to mount, and then vent to someone else about the bereaved person. If they find out, this may be more hurtful to the bereaved person than if you hadn't tried to support them in the first place. 

Accompany the Person to Difficult Events

There may be events following the death of someone with an addiction that will be very difficult for the bereaved person. To be supportive, you can offer to accompany them to:

  • make statements to the police or to reporters
  • talk to doctors, funeral directors, and lawyers
  • a court proceeding

Respect the bereaved wishes if they want to do these things alone.

Recognize That Grief is a Process

Grief is a complex process involving several different stages, and a range of different, and often contradictory emotions.  People vary greatly in how long it takes them to recover from the death of a loved one. 

Let the bereaved go through this process in their own way and in their own time. 



Kulber-Ross, M.D., E. On Death and Dying. New York: Schribner. 1969.

Moe, J. Understanding addiction and recovery through a child's eyes : Help, hope, and healing for the family. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications. 2007.

Orford, J., Dalton, S., Hartney, E. et al. "The Close Relatives of Untreated Heavy Drinkers: Perspectives on Heavy Drinking and its Effects." Addiction Research & Theory, 10:439-463. 2002.

Orford et al Coping with Alcohol and Drug Problems: The Experiences of Family Members in Three Contrasting Cultures. Hove: Routledge. 2005.

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