Dealing with Grief and Loss from Substance Use

February 6, 2019. Article by: Government of BC

“We grieve intensely because we love intensely.”

Losing someone to substance use is a deeply traumatic and painful experience.

It can leave you with many unanswered questions and a space in your life where a person used to be. It can leave you with feelings of grief, and all the ways that grief presents itself: shock, sadness, anger, fatigue, appetite changes, and many other forms. 

It can leave you wondering how you’ll ever deal with the loss – and even if you are dealing with it in the right way.

There really is no rulebook when it comes to coping with this kind of tragic event. In the wake of such trauma, it can feel difficult to find comfort in anything.

You may find joy in celebrating the person you have lost with family and friends. You may prefer a quiet reflection on the light they brought into your life.

In whatever way you express your grief or experience it inside yourself, however your reaction shifts from one day to the next, or however hard things get as you learn to live with this new normal, remember that we grieve intensely because we love intensely. Try to view your grief from this perspective.

Five actions to cope with grief and loss

Follow this as a guide for help navigating the emotions, thoughts and changes that can follow losing someone to substance use.

Find a counsellor. A counsellor can help you process and understand your grief, as well as your feelings towards your loved one and their substance use. You can use the CounsellingBC online directory to find a counsellor in your community.

Practice self-care. Self-care is how we limit stress, meet our own needs and nurture physical and mental health. Eating nutritious food, seeing friends and family, and getting enough sleep are all good methods of self-care, as are personal hobbies such as spending time in nature, creative outlets such as writing, art or music, and physical activity.

Let yourself feel what you need to feel. Some people try to fight big, painful emotions, or resort to negative coping mechanisms such as using drugs or alcohol to numb their pain. It’s a bad idea to try and deal with grief in this way. Facing it head on may seem like the hardest thing to do, but it’s necessary to process your grief in a healthy way.

Ask for help. Family and friends are there to support you. Ask for help when you need it and be specific in letting the people around you know what you need from them. 

Grieve together. Remember: you’re not alone in your grief. Consider joining a support group for people that have lost someone to substance use. You can search for services in your area using the HealthLinkBC service finder

It may not seem possible during dark moments, but in time, the intensity of your emotions will subside even though the grief will remain. Just as there is no rulebook for how to experience grief, there is no timeline for when it ends.

With time, support and the right tools, you will learn to live with your grief. Navigating this new reality will always come with hard days. But as you journey forward, there will also always be good days on the horizon.

Develop knowledge, understanding and resilience: learn more about Navigating Grief and Loss as a Result of Substance Use (PDF).