Do People Hide Their Grief Over Overdose-Related Deaths Because of Addiction-Related Stigmas?
Drug addiction is a severe health danger that can put people at a high risk of many health issues. Sadly, many individuals die from overdoses every year, and their loved ones may struggle to understand this situation. Even worse, stigmas on addiction may make this mourning process and treatments such as rehab for mental illness harder to process appropriately.
Addiction-Related Stigmas Exist
Stigmas can be tough to fight because they are often so ingrained in culture and how people perceive the world. For example, stigmas about addiction – and other mental health illnesses – can paint a damaging picture. The idea that a person with an addiction is "weak" or "immoral" is widespread, and so is the idea that they "deserve" to suffer from addiction.
These stigmas are a real issue because they create a feeling of otherness to those with an addiction. This scenario strips them of their humanity and can make it harder for people to feel sympathy for them. Unfortunately, these stigmas can affect the loved ones of a person who has an addiction and make that individual's overdose death harder to mourn or accept.
Whether that loved one feels unable to mourn due to stigmas placed on the situation by others or by themselves is irrelevant – a stigma is a stigma. These feelings make it harder for a person to mourn a loved one. Instead of healing, they might face a challenging journey that may affect their recovery and cause a high level of emotional suffering that refuses to go away.
Why People Hide Grief
Many people hide grief over a loved one's death, an emotional reaction that is understandable but ultimately unhealthy. The reasons for this behavior can be quite complex, particularly if an individual experienced conflict with the person who passed. Overdose deaths might make a person's struggles with mourning even more difficult.
First of all, a person might disown a loved one with an addiction and may not recognize them in their life. Or, loved ones might be mourning a person with an addiction before they die because their addiction has changed the person and their lives so drastically. An individual may feel shame from others in their community and deal with their shame by hiding their mourning and depression.
But unprocessed emotions can challenge a person, making it difficult for them to move on from a loss. Even though they don't publicly – or even personally – admit to their grief, it exists. Left to fester, negative emotions such as grief can worsen and cause more damaging emotional health issues. Therefore, it is essential to fight addiction stigmas and process death properly.
Ways to Fight Stigma
Fighting the stigma against addiction starts by understanding your emotions. Sometimes people do not realize that they feel stigmas or behave in ways that may upset or damage their loved ones. For instance, individuals may use language that is very negative towards addiction and people with this disease, which may affect how they think about it.
This type of language includes terms such as addict, junkie, user, or drunk. These terms are harmful and can create a stigma in a person's mind. The terms put the disease before the person by defining them by it. As a result, those who use these terms reinforce the mistaken belief that a person with addiction chooses to be addicted, worsening their stigma.
Instead, it is crucial to understand that addiction is a disease, one that requires professional rehab help to combat. People do not choose to be addicted and they aren’t solely defined by their addictions. They are people who also have addictions to drugs or alcohol, not addicts, junkies, or drunks.
Accepting these distinctions can make it easier for a person to grieve their loved ones and adequately mourn them. Remember – mourning is an essential part of recovery after death, and removing addiction stigmas may allow a person to accept death and avoid hiding their emotions.
Ways You Can Help
If someone is suffering from grief due to the overdose death of a loved one, you could suggest that they talk with a therapist or another professional. By talking with therapists, people can explore and express their feelings without judgement. Therapists can help people acknowledge their grief while helping them navigate their new lives without their loved ones. Support groups can also provide assistance. Groups such as Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing (GRASP) include members who have suffered similar losses. GRASP notes that people sometimes treat addiction-related deaths differently, so it “was created to offer understanding, compassion, and support for those who have lost someone they love through addiction and overdose.”
There are grief support groups in specific geographic areas and ones that allow people to meet virtually or use online services to share and find information. The groups provide support and let people know that they’re not alone. They remind people that others have had similar experiences and are willing to help.
Assistance can also come in other forms. Instead of asking a grieving person what you can do, do something. You can:
Just talking can also provide assistance. People might be worried that grieving people don’t want to talk about their loved ones, but the opposite is often true. By sharing stories and memories about their loved one, you allow people to discuss their grief and what their loved one meant to them.
By helping people take control of their emotional health, you give them a better chance to be happy and healthy. Just as importantly, they can give their loved ones the love and attention they need so they can also mourn and address their emotions.
Author bio: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoys writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.
drugabuse.gov – Addressing the Stigma That Surrounds Addiction
drugabuse.gov – Words Matter – Terms to Use and Avoid When Talking About Addiction
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Understanding Stigma of Mental and Substance Use Disorders
ncbi.nlm.nlh.gov – Grief and Mourning Gone Awry: Pathway and Course of Complicated Grief
grieflink.org.au – Unrecognized or Hidden Grief
samhsa.gov – The Power of Perceptions and Understand: Changing How We Deliver Treatment and Recovery Services
grasphelp.org - About Us (GRASP)
mygriefconnection.org - In-Person Support Groups
medlineplus.gov - Bereavement
cdc.gov - Grief and Loss
Sara J. Cobb
Founder, My Grief Connection
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Updated 11 September 2023
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