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Blog Post | August 24, 2023

Navigating Grief and Supporting Those with Substance Use Disorder

Grief is an intricate and often overwhelming emotion that accompanies loss, and when intertwined with substance use disorder, it becomes even more complex. Whether someone is grieving the loss of a loved one due to substance use or grappling with their own journey through recovery, offering support becomes crucial. However, knowing what to say and what not to say can make all the difference in providing comfort and understanding during these difficult times.

What Not to Say:

  1. “They brought this upon themselves.” Blaming the individual or the deceased for their struggles can exacerbate guilt and shame. Substance use disorder is a complex issue influenced by various factors, and a compassionate approach is essential.
  2. “Just move on.” Grief doesn’t have a timeline. Telling someone to move on may invalidate their feelings and hinder their healing process. Grieving is a personal journey, and it’s important to respect its pace.
  3. “I know exactly how you feel.” Even if you’ve experienced loss or addiction, each person’s journey is unique. This statement might unintentionally belittle their experience.
  4. “They’re in a better place now.” While well-intentioned, this phrase might not be comforting to someone struggling with substance use disorder. Focus on empathetic and supportive messages instead of glossing over their pain.

What to Say:

  1. “I’m here for you.” These simple words can make a world of difference. Expressing your willingness to listen and provide support lets them know they’re not alone.
  2. “I can’t fully understand your experience, but I want to learn.” Demonstrating your willingness to learn about their journey through grief and recovery shows that you’re invested in their well-being.
  3. “You are not defined by your struggles.” Remind them that they are more than their addiction or their loss. Reinforce their strengths, qualities, and resilience.
  4. “It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling.” Let them know that their emotions are valid and normal, whether they’re experiencing sadness, anger, confusion, or a mix of emotions.
  5. “Would you like to talk about it?” Offer an open invitation for conversation without pressure. Sometimes, just knowing someone is ready to listen can provide immense relief.

How to Be Supportive:

  1. Educate Yourself: Understanding substance use disorder and its effects can help you approach the situation with empathy and knowledge.
  2. Practice Active Listening: Give your full attention when they speak. Avoid interrupting or offering solutions unless they ask for advice.
  3. Offer Practical Help: Assist with daily tasks or responsibilities to alleviate some of their stress during this challenging time.
  4. Avoid Judgment: Grief and addiction are complicated enough without adding judgment into the mix. Offer a non-judgmental space for them to share their feelings.
  5. Respect Their Boundaries: Everyone copes differently. Some may want to talk openly, while others may need more time and space. Respect their choices.
  6. Suggest Professional Help: Grief and substance use disorder may require professional assistance. Encourage them to seek therapy, counseling, or support groups.
  7. Celebrate Progress: In the journey of recovery, even small steps forward are significant. Celebrate their achievements and milestones.
  8. Practice Patience: Healing takes time. Continue to support them as they navigate their grief and recovery, even when the process is slow.

Navigating grief alongside substance use disorder requires sensitivity, empathy, and a willingness to learn. The right words and actions can provide invaluable comfort and support during these challenging times. By focusing on what to say, what not to say, and how to be genuinely supportive, you can help create a safe space for healing, growth, and recovery.