Imagine for one moment what it might be like to grieve for a loved one who died from alcohol or drug intoxication. Many in our community are living with this reality, and they often find that their grief is not approved by others because their loved one “should have known better” or “did it to themselves.” People grieving substance abuse loss often experience disenfranchised grief, or silent grief, which is grief that is not accepted by society as valid. Substance abuse loss is not the only loss associated with silent grief. Others include losing an infant to miscarriage, losing a beloved pet, losing a loved one to suicide, losing a loved one due to their criminal activities, and more. People who have lost a loved one to substance abuse are often told that it was their loved one’s choice to do drugs, which makes them feel like their grief is invalid or not allowed.
Substance abuse loss is something that affects people in all walks of life, in all demographic groups, all over the country. In Calvert County in 2016, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported 38 deaths related to alcohol and drugs (Drug- and Alcohol-Related Intoxication Deaths in Maryland, 2016, 2017). In the United States as a whole, the total is staggering: overdose deaths related to drugs reached a new high over 71,000 (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2017). These deaths represent families, friends, and loved ones who grieve a tragic loss and often have no one to turn to.
Support groups can help those who are experiencing silent or disenfranchised grief due to substance abuse loss. Groups offer a built-in support system made up of people who understand. They offer an opportunity to share personal stories in a safe place where judgment is left at the door. They allow participants to share memories of their loved ones, openly talk about their loss, and process the feelings that go along with their grief.
Gone But Never Forgotten is an 8-week grief support group for family members and friends who have lost a loved one to substance abuse. The group will meet on Mondays from February 12 to April 5 from 6:30 – 8:00 pm at “The Space” (96 Central Square Drive, Prince Frederick). The program is supported by the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund, which allows Calvert Hospice to offer it to participants for free. The group will be offered for free again in the fall supported by the United Way Impact Grant. Those who attend will have the opportunity to learn healthy coping skills, learn about the grieving process, work through the pain of losing a loved one to addiction, learn to find hope and healing after loss, and gain support from others who have similar experiences. The program is designed to support people who are experiencing silent grief and the feelings that go along with it: anger, blame, guilt, and even relief. Participants are allowed to openly mourn their loved one in a safe environment with those who know what they are going through because they are living it, too.
If you or someone you care for is grieving due to substance abuse loss, please contact Tessa Washington, LGMFT, Bereavement Coordinator for Calvert Hospice at (410) 535-0892, ext. 2201 or email@example.com. Help is just a phone call away.
Amanda Peterson, Volunteer and Communications Coordinator for Calvert Hospice
Tessa Washington, LGMFT, Bereavement Coordinator for Calvert Hospice
Drug- and Alcohol-Related Intoxication Deaths in Maryland, 2016 (Rep.). (2017). Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Retrieved January 17, 2018, from https://bha.health.maryland.gov/OVERDOSE_PREVENTION/Documents/Maryland%202016%20Overdose%20Annual%20report.pdf
“Overdose Death Rates.” (Sept. 2017). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from: