Addiction has the ability to touch anyone, of any social class, any religion, of any gender, and many don’t survive it. The number of deaths caused by heroin has increased by 39% in just the past few years. According to the most recent numbers provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 5,927 people died from heroin overdoses in 2012. In 2013, the number of deaths increased to 8,260.
Numbers don’t mean much when heroin addiction affects someone you love, though. Statistics simply remind us of the fact that we aren’t alone, and the sadness in that fact is almost overwhelming.
The problem is, our reaction to a death due to heroin is full of complexities. If we are in recovery, we may hear things like, “Well, that’s just part of the recovery community. It’s just what to expect.” This isn’t a helpful statement.
If you’ve lost a friend to heroin addiction, here are some insights:
How You May Feel
The first thing you should know is that it’s okay to feel the way you do- no matter what that feeling is. Everyone copes with the loss of a friend in their own way, and with a heroin overdose, the range of emotions can run the gambit. Some of the feelings you may experience may include:
- Guilt– You might feel as if you could have done something to prevent the addiction or death from happening. You may become obsessed with thinking about what you could have said or should have done to help your friend who passed. These feelings may be intensified if we recently had a conversation or face-to-face meeting that ended in an argument about their addiction.
- Shame– Guilt describes what you are experiencing while shame involves what you believe others might feel about the situation. You may worry that others will judge you for what you did or did not do to help your friend. You may even feel that others will look down on you for mourning a friend who was addicted to an illegal substance like heroin.
- Blame– Anger is one of the stages of grief, and it is no less present in the case of heroin overdose. It often rears its ugly head in the form of blame, however. You may blame the individual who was addicted for their part in their death. You may blame yourself or their family members for not preventing the overdose from occurring. You may blame the dealer, a significant other. Just be aware that these feelings are normal.
- Isolation– Friends and family members of addicts who overdose often suffer in silence because they feel alone. We often feel like others won’t understand or won’t be supportive of our grief. You may be reluctant to talk about the death with others or seek help from family, friends, counselors, or support groups.
- Anxiety– Feeling anxious after a friend has overdosed is completely normal. You may become anxious that others will begin abusing drugs because of the death or that those affected by the death who are in recovery themselves will relapse because of their grief. If you are in recovery, you may be thinking about your own life and what might have happened to you.
Heroin Overdose: How to Express Your Grief
Every emotion you experience after the loss of one of your friends is challenging, and the overwhelming sadness may feel like it has no end. While you may feel alone, the numbers don’t lie. There are thousands of friends and families in this country experiencing the same thing you are right now. In fact, this type of grief affects a family every 14 minutes.
So how do you deal with this pain? How do you let yourself work through this type of grief?
While there is no single answer for everyone, we have found a few options that prove to be helpful.
- Problem People– Even those that are close to you, like family members and friends, may not react well to the news of this type of death. They may make it seem like the death isn’t worthy of mourning and may not provide you with the support you need during this tough time. Stand up for yourself and let them know exactly what you need. If they still bring negativity into your life, get some space from them. You should be free to grieve in your own way.
- Gain a Better Understanding– Gaining a better understanding of addiction and what it is can help release your own tendencies toward blame or guilt. You’ll soon learn that you have no power over anyone else’s addiction. Although you may not be able to reason your guilt away with this knowledge, it can help to prevent you from obsessing over a lack of control over the outcome.
- Speak up– The way you speak up and out about your feelings will help you to process them. Find a way to express yourself. Many of us who have suffered this kind of loss find an outlet and therapeutic value in music, art, writing, or reaching out to others in similar situations.
- Find Support– If you don’t feel comfortable asking for the support you need from friends and family members, it is vital to find that support elsewhere. Local grief support groups and counseling can provide you with a loving and caring environment to discuss your emotions and express your grief.
Experiencing the loss of a friend from a heroin overdose can bring about feelings that are complex and challenging. The Shores offers specialized grief counseling as part of our treatment plan to our clients. If you or someone you love is suffering in active addiction, please give us a call today.