Addiction is an ugly disease and thousands of people lose their battles each year.  According to the CDC, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. More than 700,000 people died from opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2017. Alcohol is the world’s third largest risk factor for disease and disability and causes nearly four percent of deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

What to say when someone passes away?

When your friend, relative or child is dependent on drugs or alcohol, the greatest fear is for them to succumb to their battle with addiction. For too many families, this fear has become a reality. Even if you’ve dealt with addiction personally or in your family, it can be difficult to know what to say to someone who has lost a loved one. Here are some tips for helping them cope.

Losing a loved one to addiction: what not to say

  • Don’t criticize the person in grief

Carefully consider what you’re about to say, reminding yourself that no one can help someone else recover from an addiction. Families and friends are often at a loss for how to deal with addiction, and it’s hurtful to remind them of their powerlessness during this difficult time.

  • Don’t judge how someone grieves

Even if you’ve experienced something similar, grief is extremely personal. Don’t measure anyone else by your own yardstick.

  • Don’t judge the addict

The person left behind likely has many contradicting feelings about their relationship with that person. Even if the addict was cruel or abusive, refrain from judging or criticizing them.

  • Don’t play the blame game

Avoid casting blame on the addict, their friends, drug dealers, school, employers, or anyone else you may think is responsible.

  • Avoid platitudes

Referencing “God’s will” or saying “he/she’s in a better place” is the last thing a grieving person wants to hear.

How to show support?

  • Show compassion

Even if you don’t know what to do or say, or feel awkward, reach out frequently to let the bereaved know that you are there for them. Their pain will never fully go away, but the comfort of family and friends will mean everything to them. Let them know that you’re there to listen, and when they take you up on it, don’t offer unsolicited advice.

  • Offer sincere condolences

Sometimes, less is more. Don’t worry about saying the perfect thing, just let them know how sorry you are for their loss.

  • Encourage self-care

Without criticism, encourage self-care however you can. Whether it’s gently encouraging therapy or helping with chores like childcare or house cleaning so that person can sleep or shower, the depths of grief can be all-consuming.

  • Help with logistics, if appropriate

Often, there are several necessary tasks to handle when someone dies unexpectedly. Depending on your relationship with the bereaved, you can offer to help with overwhelming tasks like notifying other friends, helping with funeral arrangements, or dealing with doctors or lawyers.

  • Be present

Being physically present is helpful, and when you’re there, give that person your undivided attention. Listen without judgment. Offer to complete errands or chores, and respond promptly to phone calls and texts.

Remember, there’s no one way to cope. It can be hard to know what to say to someone who has lost a child to drugs or alcohol, but your support and presence will mean more than you know.
As difficult as it is, losing a loved one can be a critical turning point on the path to sobriety. If you or a loved one is struggling, please reach out to an addiction specialist at United Recovery Project, today. As long as you are here, it’s not too late.