Death from Overdose

If you are reading this, someone close to you has died from overdose. We are very sorry for your loss. We hope that this handout will help you cope with your loss. You may also find resources that have helped other grieving families.

According to government studies, drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. More than 3 out of 5 overdose deaths involve the use of an opioid.

About 88,000 people die from alcohol overdose each year in the U.S.

Reactions After an Overdose Death

After a death from alcohol or drug overdose, people may feel: 

  • Socially isolated
  • That their loss is judged differently
  • Guilty or that they could have prevented the death
  • That others are to blame for the addiction or death
  • Helpless, anxious, depressed, and shocked
  • Angry at the deceased
  • Shame about the loss or their reactions to the addicted person's behavior
  • Physically sick with headaches, stomach aches, nausea, fast heartbeat, or trouble concentrating
  • Numb
  • Relief that they do not have to face the upsetting addiction behaviors any longer

People may also have:

  • Repeated upsetting memories of the death or the addicted person's behavior
  • No desire to be reminded of the loss
  • Trouble sleeping. They may have nightmares, difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking or daytime exhaustion

Suggestions for Coping with Grief

Acknowledge how your loved one died

There is a stigma about drug and alcohol use, and it is normal to want to deny the role that they played in your loved one's death. But it is important to recognize that your loved one used drugs or alcohol. It helps to admit the role addiction played and accept support from others who understand. 

Speak Up

Be honest with yourself and those you trust. Some people have a hard time sharing how they feel. If you have a tough time sharing your feelings, you can try other ways of expressing yourself such as writing, music, photography, or art. Find what work best for you!

Understand addiction

You may feel guilt as well as grief. Remember that you had no power over your loved one's illness. This can help you accept your loved one's addiction and allow you to feel less guilt.

12-step programs like Al-Anon can help you understand addiction better. You can find one in your community or online.

Stand up for yourself

It can be hard to tell others that their well­-intentioned comments or actions are not helpful. But friends and family members are not mind readers. They do not know what your feelings are unless you tell them.

If you want more support, tell them. Let them know what is not helping or what would be more helpful.

Limit contact with people who don't support you

Sometimes people say the wrong thing or hurtful things. You may need to speak with them about their comments or actions. After speaking with them, some people may still fail to support you. It is okay to stay away from these people while you are grieving. At this time focus on surrounding yourself with people who are helpful and supportive.

Other coping tips

  • Take good care of yourself. Get enough sleep, eat good foods, drink enough water and try to be healthy.
  • Write in a journal to manage your grief.
  • Ask for help from your support system.
  • Learn more about the grief process. Read about grief or attend a grief group.
  • Remember and honor your loved one in a way that is meaningful to you.
  • Raise awareness by volunteering in a way that supports grieving families.
  • Get counseling if you are having a hard time adjusting.

Reading Resources Available for loan - Call 218-786-4402

  • When a Child Dies from Drugs by Pat & Russ Wittberger
  • My Daughter's Addiction: A Thief in the Family - Hardwired for Heroin by Marie Minnich
  • I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One by Brook Noel & Pamela Blair, PhD.
  • Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief by Martha Whitmore Hickman

Looking for Support?

Call Grief Support Services at 218-786-4402 for more information regarding counseling and grief support groups for children, teens, and adults.