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Someone dies every 14 minutes in the US from a medication overdose death and the families and friends they leave behind are left with the grief of having lost a loved one and are coping with medication overdose death.  Data released in 2011 indicated that medication overdose death rates for prescription medications outnumbered both heroin and cocaine overdose deaths combined. Prescription medication overdose death rates outnumber traffic fatalities, death from prostate cancer, and approaching the number of people who die from breast cancer.

An article by Feigelman, Jordan and Gorman published in 2011 brought the lack of research done in this area to the forefront when they reported that only two studies had been done on the topic at that time.  Their article contrasted the results of a comparative survey in which 571 grieving parents who lost a child to medication overdose death or suicide were studied and looked for patterns in the duration and severity of their grief of coping with medication overdose. The group consisted of the surviving parents of 462 suicides, 37 accidental deaths, 24 natural deaths, and 48 drug-related deaths and overdose deaths.

The groups difficulties with mental health problems, grief difficulties, posttraumatic stress, and stigmatization were compared with some clear results. Parents of those who lost a child to suicide and those who lost a child to drug-related death did not show any appreciable differences. But when these two groups were compared with the other causes of death a consistent pattern emerged. Grieving individuals in the suicide and drug related deaths experienced more mental health issues and problems with grief than the two latter sub-groups, indicating that coping with medication overdose was significantly distressing.

Coping With Medication Overdose Death and Suicide Feels Avoidable

Death by suicide or drug overdose is often thought of as being preventable and creates some significant emotional hurdles for those that are left behind.

  1. Coping with Medication Overdose Death, Suicide and Guilt

Guilt is a response to our belief that we could have done something differently to change the outcome of a particular situation. While guilt is experienced for many reasons in a person’s life, grief connected to overdose death presents individuals with many forms of guilt.

  • Family members and friends feel that the loss is somehow their fault. Perhaps they should have, or could have, done something to prevent it.
  • Guilt because they feel that they are responsible for their loved one’s addiction leading to the overdose death.
  • Family members and friends may feel guilty at the sense of release and relief from the effects of the person suffering from addiction.
  • Family and friends may become obsessed over whether or not they did enough to support the person who had an overdose death.
  1. Coping with Medication Overdose Death, Suicide and Shame

How we feel when we perceive that others are judging us due to our actions or inactions or their belief that we should have done something differently to prevent the overdose death or suicide can produce feelings of shame.

  • Family members may experience shame that the individual suffered from addiction and feel like they were somehow to blame for having someone addicted in their family.
  • They may feel shame that they somehow contributed or enabled the person in their addiction.
  • Shame may be experienced because they don’t think they did enough to help.
  • Shame for their grief for the person because they don’t deserve to mourn their loss.
  1. Coping With Medication Overdose Death, Suicide and Blame

Feigelman, Jordan and Gorman’s study showed that people blamed each other more when their loved one died of suicide or drug overdose. This was the result of both blaming each other and self-blame.  Some feelings were reported as consistently experienced:

  • Blame of another person who was present or participated in the drug or alcohol use.
  • Taking on of blame for the person experiencing an addiction.
  • Self-blame for the person’s death.
  • Blaming the deceased person for their overdose death or suicide.
  • Blame directed at each other for not being able to prevent the overdose death
  • Obsession surrounding not having done enough to support the person who died.

Over 97% of blame comments were linked with those who experienced drug overdose death or suicide. Only 2-3% of individuals blamed someone for accidental deaths, and 0% for those who died a natural death. In those cases where blame comments were made, 36% blamed a parent and 64% blamed the child who had a drug overdose death or suicide. Nearly half of all those in the study who had lost a child to a drug overdose death or suicide stated that their significant other had used blame statements.

Coping with Medication Overdose Death, Suicide, Stigma and Isolation

Those left behind after an overdose death or suicide of a loved one experience stigma, shame, and guilt even though we know hundreds of thousands of families are affected by addiction every year. These individuals often suffer in silence for fear of increasing stigma, guilt, and shame and are hesitant to talk about it. This can result in difficulty accepting the circumstances of their loved ones death, hesitance to discuss the cause of death, reluctance to participate in counseling or support groups, and hesitance to seek support from family members or friends to cope with overdose death or suicide.

In the Feigelman et al study, participants reported that 50% of parents who lost a child to an medication overdose death or suicide received less-than-expected levels of support from their partner. This increased and contributed to their feelings of isolation from others.

Medication Overdose Death, Fear and Anxiety

When someone loses a family member to addiction or overdose, anxiety may become a significant issue for those left behind. Surviving family members will often become consumed with worry that another family member will start abusing substances, that someone else who uses a substance may overdose, and that any family members in abuse recovery may relapse and begin abusing again. This can build conflict and mistrust between surviving friends and family members and can lead to issues where one person tries to have some control over the others’ actions. If not addressed immediately, these concerns can become obsessions and destroy relationships over time.

If you are coping with the loss of a loved one through medication overdose, our treatment for depression relies on evidence based practices, our Intensive Outpatient Program shares many common methods with other successful treatment methods.  The foundation of our treatment program for relies on the principles of the stages of change, cognitive behavioral therapy, solution focused treatment, skills training and identifying repetitive dysfunctional behavioral relationship patterns to promote recovery from loss, depression and other mental health disorders.  In fact, our Intensive Outpatient Program in Memphis, TN that has been proven to be effective in the treatment of these disorders in six peer reviewed treatment outcome studies.   Our treatment center provides services to those who need more treatment than one hour a week, but less than 24 hour care, by providing three hours of treatment per day, three to five days per week, in an intensive outpatient setting.  It is also important to keep in mind that women and men often experience depression and loss of a loved one differently and therefore the presence of depression may also appear differently based on gender. Dealing with the loss of a loved one through overdose is a complicated and difficult journey.  If you or a loved one is showing signs of depression or anxiety, they should be assessed by a trained mental health professional who can help design a treatment plan for depression that can result in recovery.  Treatment for depression and anxiety can be highly successful and people who have completed our program have resulted in our treatment program receiving very highly consumer satisfaction scores and reviewsCall us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.