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Bereaved by addiction or substance abuse

A child’s death at any age and from any cause is a profound loss. When substances such as alcohol and/or drugs (legal or illegal) are involved, additional layers of grief are often present. Whether death came after a history of substance use, a single encounter, or from the disease of addiction, processing this loss has its own set of complications.

For each family, the pain and loss are unique and some of us may also have to bear the burden of a society which is harshly critical of our child. When death results from drugs, alcohol or any form of addiction, some people may express opinions such as, “he brought it on himself”, or “it was her choice”, and feel that we are not entitled to the same respect or sympathy that is shown to others.

We may have suffered years of trauma, unpredictability or conflict before our child died; or sometimes we have had no idea that there was a problem at all. We may have lost touch with our son or daughter altogether or borne the burden of our anxieties with the support of only a few trusted friends and relatives – too ashamed to admit openly the extent and nature of our family’s difficulties.

Whatever the individual circumstances, the death comes as a shock, even if expected. Our grief begins when we are already at a low ebb, often worn down by worry and uncertainly; and for some it will seem that the grief actually began long ago. Frequently both the substance use and the death may be considered taboo and stigmatising, leaving the bereaved person feeling shame and alienated at what might be worst time of their life.

Bereavements by addiction are likely to be complicated by:

  • A belief that the death was premature and could have been prevented
  • Not knowing exactly how your child died or how much they suffered
  • Feelings of guilt that you were not able to help your child
  • A difficult relationship with your child and their substance use before their death
  • Involvement with the police, the wider criminal justice system and the coroners court or (in Scotland) the procurator fiscal service
  • The loss of hope that your child would one day stop using substances
  • Sensational and judgemental media coverage

This can leave people feeling very isolated and alone. By sharing your feelings and experiences with others within TCF who are bereaved in a similar way, you may find understanding, solace and the strength and acceptance to move forward in your life and to lift the stigma.

TCF’s leaflet Coping with Judgemental Attitudes covers this subject in more depth.

TCF has a dedicated and private Facebook group and an annual retreat for parents bereaved in this way.

TCF also has local groups and contacts, an online forum, a quarterly journal and a postal library. Our Annual Gathering and occasional retreats provide opportunities to meet other bereaved parents and to share experiences. You can find details of these events here. There is a retreat in June 2017 in Birmingham for parents bereaved by addiction or substance use.

Our National and Facebook contact for parents bereaved by addiction is Susan Brooks (nee Carroll) susanc15@live.co.uk - please do not hesitate to make contact.

Other helplines and organisations that might be of support include:

Adfam: National organisation working with and for families affected by drugs and alcohol

Cruse (Bereavement Charity) and Adfam have together set up the BEAD Project: Bereaved through Alcohol and Drugs.

Drugfam: Bereaved by drugs or alcohol.

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Each year thousands of parents suffer the loss of a son or a daughter. Please help us to support families in their time of greatest need.

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