When it comes to bereavement through addiction, how are people affected?
Every bereavement can be difficult and painful. But when someone we care for harms themselves or dies as a result of drugs or alcohol use or gambling addictions there are some common factors that can make it even harder.
Elements like stigma & shame, the traumatic circumstances of the death, experiences before the death, and the suddenness and shock of the death are combined unique circumstances often experienced by those who have lost loved ones in this way.
Addiction Stigma is one of the hardest things families and people who suffer from alcohol or drug misuse have to deal with.
Because of a lack of education & other factors, some people hold a negative, discriminatory attitude toward people with addiction issues.
Stigma is hugely harmful to how we think about addiction issues on every level – from our own personal level in terms of how we talk to – and about people in addiction. This can be demonstrated in terms that are used towards them.
Stigma can travel right up to a political level – in terms of the provision of resources and services to support individuals and families in our communities when dealing with addiction issues.
One of the worst things that happen as a result of Addiction Stigma is that it prevents people from identifying themselves as people who need help, and prevents them from taking the proactive steps to access the treatment they need -because of the shame they feel.
Women in particular, especially mothers, hesitate to engage with services for fear of how they will be judged and fear their children will be taken from them.
However addiction stigma affects both men & women.
Stigma stems from a very misguided belief that addiction is the result of personal weakness, or only afflicts ‘bad’ people. This is simply not true. Research has demonstrated that addiction is a disease of the brain. And addiction can affect anyone regardless of their upbringing, social status or morality.
It can be a common assumption that addiction is a choice. But nobody chooses addiction and it is something that can happen to anyone from any walk of life.
We recognise to reduce & stop the stigma, we first need to highlight and talk about it like we are doing today. Education is the key for us as a society to develop better understanding, treatment, and support for those in addiction and their family member. Our message is that we need to treat addiction in the same way any other medical issue are treated. Addiction is not a criminal issue. It is a medical one.
How does Addiction Stigma particularly impact those that are bereaved?
After someone dies through drugs or alcohol relatives and friends often feel social stigma and isolation. People tell us they feel judged and that they feel they are not getting the same sympathy or support they would if the person had died of another illness or in an accident.
Loved ones can sometimes experience hearing derogatory remarks about their loved one – sometimes from close family or friends who are not fully educated about addiction & substance misuse.
People who have lost loved ones to drugs or alcohol often feel that society or people around them might be judging their loved ones and unable to see past their addiction.
Sometimes they will hear remarks in the media/social media or even from professionals that will make them feel judged or blamed or that their loved one is at fault.
All of this impacts the grieving process for loved ones. They are dealing with a devastating loss which is difficult enough but dealing with the stigma complicates and adds to their pain.
It is so important for loved ones to know that you have the right to grieve just like everybody.
And because of the unique and often traumatic circumstances families often experience as a result of the death, it is so important that they are able to access help and support for themselves.
Part of the bereavement process is to allow ourselves to acknowledge and grieve our loss. Our annual service is a chance for us to acknowledge the difficulties & challenges these bereaved family members face in their grief.
What other issues affect those bereaved through addiction?
Traumatic Circumstances. When someone dies through drugs or alcohol it can be in traumatic
circumstances. Sometimes the garda and other officials are often involved. There may be an
inquest and a post-mortem which are stressful and delay funerals and memorials. Loved ones
can have questions about how and why a loved one died which are never fully answered.
Experiences before the death: Many people bereaved through alcohol or drugs have been
living with an addiction in the family, sometimes for many years. When someone close is
experiencing addiction it can make life very difficult: emotionally, practically and financially.
Issues you faced beforehand can often carry over into bereavement.
Suddenness and shock: Whether or not the death was expected or feared it can still feel like a
devastating shock when it happens. Some people do not know beforehand that their loved one
was using drugs or drinking too much and some loved ones may have only recently
Relief: If you had a difficult or strained relationship with the person, you may not be sure how
you feel now they are dead. You might even be relieved which often leads to struggles with
anger or guilt. The important thing is to try not to feel guilty. It’s difficult to watch someone close
to you struggle with addiction, it’s okay to feel a complicated mix of emotions after their death.
The intensity of emotion: It can be very difficult to make sense of death when it feels like it
happened at the wrong time, and in the wrong way. Because of this, and the other factors which
make bereavement through drugs and alcohol so difficult, we know it can be very, very painful. It
can take a long time to work through and process this pain.
Our message is to anyone If any of this resonates with you, please don’t feel alone. You
can get support. And know you and your family deserve support.
There will be a list of support information on our website and social media pages. And
our own contact number is 087 9046405 and our website is www.fasn.ie