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How Does Drug Overdose Affect Families

Death by overdose is loaded with social and moral stigmas. Many people use terms such as "drug addict", "junkie" or "user" in describing a person suffering from a substance use disorder. This adds more grief, in addition to strong feelings of anger, helplessness, guilt and shame in the families, that are already grieving. The objective of this article is to analyze the impact of these feelings on families facing death by overdose, and to realize counseling is available.

How does drug overdose affect family? Family members may feel effects that include, emotional burden, anger, frustration, anxiety, fear, worry, depression, and also be left with an economic burden. Many families feel hopelessly lost during their grieving process, this can be compounded due to the social stigma, as many families feel shunned in society after an overdose death.

"What did you feel with the death of your family member by overdose and what was the impact of this death on your family as a whole?" There are two categories of families: families who knew about the drug use of their family member, and families who were not aware of it.

Secrecy regarding drug use followed by death by overdose arouses feelings of anger, guilt, helplessness, and deprives the family members of information that could have allowed them to take action. For example, families have a very time hard coping as they feel it as a missed opportunity for a treatment program that could have saved a life.

On the other hand, with families that were aware of the drug use, there seems to be a "preparation" for a possible death by overdose, bringing about ambivalent situations of grief and relief. It is disturbing to lose a family member by overdose. This is particularly hard when parents lose their children, and points to the need for psychological support for those families.

How addiction affects the family?


Many people see combating substance abuse disorders as personal experiences. Because harmful substances are harmful to consumers and relationships, they often neglect others involved. Several factors impact the way addiction affects families.

In many cases, addictions can have a long-lasting impact. The peace and affection between people may differ by the strains caused by drugs or alcohol abuse. Conflicts can be common when relatives are fighting with a child who abuses drugs. Trust starts to slip away!

Overdose Death


Many overdose deaths are related to opiates. Opioids are responsible for more deaths than any other drugs. Over 100,000 people in the United States died from opioids in 2021. This is 55.7% increase more than in 2020. Overall, the United States ranks 1st in the rate of drug-overdose deaths in the world. New York is one of 22 states with an overdose rate higher than the national average. 

Friends and family members struggle to make sense of the overdose death in someone dearly loved. Grief experts warn that those who have lost someone to an overdose death may never fully understand the circumstances of the death, especially children.

Families affected by a drug-overdose death face unfair social stigma. They frequently lack support from family, friends and the community. If the person who died had a long struggle with addiction, surviving family members may also feel bitterness towards failed substance treatment programs, health services or the criminal justice system

Drug Overdose


Society’s message is that someone who died from overdose was in some way a failure. These biases may lead to others devaluing the person’s life, without real information about addiction. Addiction is a powerful and often, little understood experience. People affected by drug overdose death should avoid blaming the person who died and avoid self-blame. 

For many, the process of grieving a death to overdose includes intense feelings of anger, guilt, and shame. The very senselessness of overdose death makes survivors anxious and filled with doubt and fear of continuing on.

Surviving family members or friends who had been caring for or financially supporting a person with addiction or persistent mental illness who dies by overdose might feel relieved that their responsibility has ended, and then feel guilty for feeling relief. Survivors may experience some or all of these complicated thoughts and emotions, and great care is needed to address them.

Drug Overdose Deaths on the Rise


According to data, the chance of someone dying from an overdose has become astonishingly high. Is this really true? Drug overdose deaths involving any opioid including (natural and semi-synthetic opioids and methadone), and other synthetics primarily fentanyl, and heroine laced with fentanyl―continued to rise through 2021 with over 100,000 deaths. More than 70% of deaths occurred among males. From 2020 to 2021, the number of deaths involving prescription opioid use disorder also rose, after remaining steady for two years.

Overdose deaths involving heroine has trended down but total opioid deaths are increasing. More than 68% of overdose deaths involved synthetics such as fentanyl, as the opioid crisis continues to grow.

It's likely we've noticed that our relationships are struggling with someone who uses illicit substances, and that treatments or prevention could prevent a tragic incident.

There can be many reasons for your friend becoming addicted to drugs, please know a treatment center is available.

Writing on the wall

As previously mentioned, overdoses don't always catch family members off guard. Sadly, it does still happen sometimes, which is why it often feels like an overwhelming emotion and burdensome for the whole family. Not every individual can detect the signals of drug use.

Those who do see the signs often don't want the patient to be given treatment against their will, they feel embarrassed to even bring it up. Sometimes family members feel the duty to support them financially, even if it means them having access to drugs.

We looked into Americans who have friends that have had drug overdoses and found signs of trouble. Many said their friends died from overdoses. This may indicate an event is under way as The U.S. is at an increased risk of death from drug overdoses. Often this could be attributed to relationship damage as someone suffers addiction, as no one intervenes.

Our study found the death of another person from overdose, in which the family did not know about the addiction, is the last reason for death that they expected. In the relations between families and friends that did know about the drug addiction, there was more expectations of death. About half of those whose friends died from a heroin overdose said they were expecting that possible outcome.

You Can Make A Difference

Over 100,000 people died in 2021 from drug overdoses in the United States.

Personal Pains

Data suggests nearly half the people in the country know of someone who has died after an overdose. Most millennials know someone who had overdosed. We all certainly know someone with signs of drug abuse, we have noticed it in their behaviors. Addiction affects each and every one of us.

This may be attributed to increasing use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which is about 50 times more addictive than other opioids. Currently, nearly one in three people have had friends die from overdose, addiction affects us all. Studies also showed that a fifth of people die from overdoses in a lifetime. In contrast only 1.6 percent of the population have died from a serious injury.

However, those of us who have known an overdose victim are nearly a third less likely to feel it's advisable to use drugs than those who have never known a death from opioid use.

Substance use and misuse in rural areas


The substance use and misuse problem is often seen in urban neighborhoods, however, substance use disorders have long been a major problem in urban areas. Rural adult use more methamphetamines, prescription drugs, and heroin, than urban in urban centers.

In rural regions, substance use has been particularly difficult because of the limited resources available for treatment or rehabilitation of a person's condition. In rural areas, charts shows that alcohol and opiates are used as a primary drugs in non-metropolitan counties.

Societal barriers are daunting

Although residents are willing to take advantage of treatment facilities, many encounter social obstacles. The stigma surrounding addiction has grown in popularity recently. Addictions are often considered a choice rather than a chronic disease.

The opinions of others on the need for treatment may hinder people with addiction. This societal barrier is sometimes increased with the jailing cycles. Inmates with addictions need assistance the most, but rarely receive treatment.

Treatment is lacking

Individuals who desire to stop taking opioids face the physically difficult task of withdrawal. They are in need of medication assisted treatment. Sometimes however, the available treatment is too much of a cost to be effective, as most insurances will not cover it. Some areas do not even provide addiction treatment. We need to change this.

Is Substance Use Disorder a Choice?

Addiction itself is often misunderstood. Over 273 people die from drug overdoses every day, resulting in a new study on how we predispose ourselves to addiction. There are those who argue it is genetics and some argue it is an environmental factor. Tell us, what is your opinion on this matter?

The concept that addiction is a choice comes from misconceptions about the types of people who suffer from it. This comes from the stigma, which developed as a result of the individuals who were affected. Often, it was people from lower classes or ethnicities that could not access services to seek help. Throughout history, substance abuse was most common among these “lesser” classes and people with lower levels of education and money. Scientists drew a conclusion that poverty and a lack of education was the reason that these individuals were likely to develop an addiction, and often they were said to have had infectious diseases.  

While this stigma is more common today than ever, modern addiction can affect any person' health regardless of class, ethnicity, or background. One use is often all it takes to put someone at high risk. Even legal drugs such as prescription opioids can easily catapult into addiction if they are misused.

Addiction as a Choice

 It is behavioral scientists, on this side and their belief is based on the idea that any activity stimulating an individual for pleasure holds a risk for addiction. This means that almost anything can potentially lead someone to becoming addicted. Whether it be taking stimuli, eating, or simply spending time on the internet. As social media has become popular, many people have become hooked on this growing trend.   

This argument is largely based on the idea that when an individual carries out an activity that they enjoy, it triggers pleasure in the brain and over time becomes a habit. Similar to how a person wakes up at the same time for work.

The difference is though, that that since it is connected to pleasure, which the brain perceives to tell the body what is good or bad for survival, these habits form faster than they otherwise would. Pleasure does not necessarily need to be pleasure in the traditional sense, rather would be more accurately described as positive stimuli. This means that activities that do not cause pleasure but provide relief from stress or negative feelings also present a strong habit-forming risk.  

Addiction as a Disease

When a person begins abusing alcohol or regularly uses prescription drugs for too long, their body will adapt itself to account for its presence in order to maintain balance. Over time, this leads to what is known as tolerance, which means that the individual will need to take more of their chosen drug in order to experience the same effects. This encourages further abuse.

This eventually leads to dependence, which means their body loses the ability to function normally without their chosen substance. If the use stops, they will experience a series of painful side effects known as withdrawal, until either their body returns to its normal state without drugs or until they use again. The first option may take several days or weeks to accomplish, so many people choose to continue using as it is less painful. By choosing this option, the user becomes locked in a vicious cycle of addiction.  

Recovery is Possible

Often times it is difficult to explain to children about the health of a loved one. The concerns we hold about that person dying are seldom shared with others out of embarrassment, and hinder the patients chances of getting help. We recommend all concerned loved ones search for rehabilitation centers in their area. There are also resources available for grief counseling, should you feel overwhelmed. Recovery is often possible when the patient gets the proper support and treatment needed. Please know there is always hope, and you are never alone!

Addiction Treatment


A substance abuse treatment plan is often an individualized plan. They may vary depending on if it alcohol abuse or another form of drug. Often the plans involve written document that details a client's goals and objectives, the steps need to achieve those, and a timeline for treatment. Support groups are usually part of the program, as a patient can talk to others afflicted with the same disease.

Some individuals receive medication assisted treatment. These plans are mutually agreed upon with the client and the patients physician. These services are generally reserved for withdrawals from opiates and rarely used for alcohol.

SAMHSA can assist with your needs when seeking medical attention and can give advice on a range of treatment options available.

Recovery is possible and you are able to heal.

One last message


The signs may have indicated that the person was suffering a drug addiction. Although it is possible that the cause of addictive behavior is biological, environmental and developmental, people left behind are often unable to confront the situation.

Now that you know this information and given this chance, why wouldn't you say something to someone? Your words could cause action in the minds of someone currently living with this problem.

Remember you are not alone and recovery is possible!


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

National Institute of Mental Health

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse

National Institute on Drug Abuse