Our guest on this episode of the Addicted Mind podcast is Dr. Louise Stanger, a clinician, interventionist, author, and trainer specializing in the grief and loss experienced by the family members of an individual who dies of an opioid overdose. Since nearly all overdoses occur somewhere other than the hospital, there is not much scientific research on the opiate epidemic. We do know that in 2016, 155 people per day died of overdoses, and for every one of those people, at least four family members were affected. In addition to these overdoses, 88,000 people died in alcohol-related incidents in 2016.
Families often approach Louise for an intervention for their loved one after they have tried everything else they can think of, and Louise uses the intervention to encourage systemic change in the addict’s life. Addiction is a disease which is treatable, despite the stigma attached to it that claims otherwise.
Grief looks different for everyone; it could involve shame, casting/placing blame, embarrassment, relief, isolation, anxiety, and even feeling unworthy to mourn their loss. Family members often feel that they did too much to enable their loved one’s addiction or they did not do enough to encourage them to leave the addiction behind. The most helpful thing you can do to help someone experiencing this loss is to be there for them, to call them, bring them meals, help them run errands, babysit so they can have a few minutes to themselves, and listen to them. The best thing to do if you are experiencing this loss is to know that you are not alone and seek help in whatever form you feel comfortable.
After experiencing the sudden death of a loved one, often the first person that family members interact with is the funeral director, coroner, or police officer, so it is imperative that these professionals have some training in dealing with this traumatic grief. Additionally, Louise believes that treatment centers and faith-based organizations must provide programs and support to these families as they cope with their loss.