Bereavement Support

If you have lost someone who used alcohol or drugs, our bereavement service is here to support you. We can chat and offer some advice and information. We also can put you in touch with an accredited counsellor who is local to you. Our service is free and is available across Scotland.

The quickest way to contact our bereavement service is through our Helpline:

Call: 08080 10 10 11
Email: helpline@sfad.org.uk
Chat on our live help
Or fill out a form here

One of our helpline advisers will chat about the service and will answer any questions you may have. We will take your contact details and ask you where you live so that we can find the closest counsellor to you. The counsellor will contact you and will arrange a suitable time for your sessions. Our service is for anyone aged 16+ but if you are under this age we can help find suitable support for you.

Your counselling sessions will last around 50 minutes. We usually offer up to six sessions but if you need less or more we can sort this out. If you can’t make one of your sessions, please give your counsellor 24 hours’ notice to reschedule. If you miss a session without telling your counsellor it will count as one of your sessions.

We collect personal information from you when you contact us. Full details on the information collected are in our Support Service Policy Notice.

‘I was apprehensive of getting counselling as I didn’t like to talk about it but I knew something had to change. From the first call to Scottish Families, everything seemed so easy and within a week I had my first counselling appointment booked. Since then I’ve never looked back. It’s been 13 months since I had my counselling and my life is back on track.’  David (name changed)

Other support: 

Coping With Grief

Losing someone we love and care about is one of the hardest things we go through in life. Grief affects everyone and it can have an impact on your whole body. It creates different emotions like sadness, anxiety, shock, guilt, and anger. It affects you physically and can lead to low energy and loss of appetite. It can cause poor sleeping patterns and general fatigue and motivation. You can also struggle to do everyday things. It affects your day-to-day behaviour making you forgetful. You may have a great desire to visit places with memories to feel closer to your loved one. You may also feel isolated and withdrawn by not wanting to talk about the loss.
 
You may have thoughts of disbelief that your family is in this situation. Even confusion about how this could have happened. Having this on your mind all the time can also affect your concentration.
 
Grief can cause strain on family relationships because people experience grief differently. One family member may find it more difficult to cope and others may not be able to understand why they feel that way. When someone doesn’t look like they feel the same way you are, it can cause anger and upset.
 
Grief can have many effects on family relationships. Families may grow closer as they support each other or want to spend more time together. Some families may grow apart and some families may not experience any changes. Every family is different.

Worden’s TEAR Model of Grief (1991) says there are four ‘tasks’ for grief which we need to do to carry on with our lives after loss.

the tasks of grief model

T = to accept the reality of the loss

To accept the reality of the loss involves coming to terms with the end of the person’s life. It is normal to feel denial, shock and disbelief when someone has died. Your mind may try to deny it has happened to avoid the pain of the loss. You may imagine you see the person or hear them coming through the front door. Once we have accepted that the person is no longer with us, we are ready to start adapting to the change in our lives.

E = experience the pain of the loss

There is no way to avoid grief. It will bring with it many emotions such as sadness and longing. It also brings emptiness, loneliness, anger, numbness, anxiety and confusion. We should always experience the emotions we have rather than trying to stop them. This is a natural part of the grieving process. All these emotions will make you exhausted and may make you not feel like eating or sleeping. During this time we should focus on looking after ourselves and spending time with loved ones.

A = adjust to the new environment without the person

At some point, we start getting back into our old routines. Children will go back to school and adults may return to work. We may start going out with friends and socialising, and feeling like ourselves again. There is no set period for how long this takes and everyone is different. You may have to adjust and learn to parent alone, being an only child, paying the bills, etc.

R = reinvest in the new reality

You will find a comfortable balance between living your life and remembering your loved one. It is about living our lives with purpose and meaning and not forgetting about the person who has died. This can take a long time and may have a few re-dos. People often feel guilty or like they are betraying the person when they move on – this is natural. People can choose to stay sad as this often gives them a closer connection to their loved ones. But when you are ready you can choose to begin living again – whatever that may look like for you.
‘I felt as though I had to hide the feelings of hurt and utter grief and despair that was tearing me apart as it made others around me uncomfortable. I felt if I told people about how my son died they looked at me thinking – what else did you expect? I have a lot of friends and family but felt like no one really understood me and that’s a very lonely place to be.’ – Adam (name change)

Bereaved Through Alcohol Or Drugs

A drug-related or alcohol-related death can happen for many reasons. It does not always mean that the person who died had an alcohol or drug problem. E.g. a person who dies after experimenting with drugs, or someone who has had an accident while under the influence.
 
Besides grieving, some families may also experience a ‘secondary loss’. Families have found that they have been coping with the frustration, stress, and pain of the person’s drug or alcohol use for a long time. They may feel that they have lost the person they knew many years before.

 

cartoon candle

Families often say they felt the death was inevitable. There may have been overdose situations before the death. Or the person was not getting the right treatment or engaging with the support they needed.
 
Whether you are grieving before or after your loved one’s death, it has all the same emotions. You need to grieve for any secondary losses you have. You need to cope with the difficulties felt from those losses.
 
Whatever the situation, death will always come as a shock. These bereavements can feel more complicated than most because of the nature of the death. If the death was drug-related or alcohol-related it can be more challenging for families because of stigma. Sometimes families receive stigmatising responses from people rather than sympathy and support. This can leave families feeling shamed when they talk about their loved one which makes grieving more complicated.

Bereavement through drugs or alcohol can be more difficult by:

  • The stigma around drug and alcohol use from the general public and the media
  • A belief that the death was premature and avoidable
  • Feelings of guilt of not being able to help the person
  • A challenging relationship with the person before their death
  • Police and court involvement
  • A loss of hope that the person would stop using drugs or alcohol
During the first week after the death of your loved one, there is a lot to take in. There are official procedures that have to take place. These can take a few days, sometimes even weeks to finalise. The circumstances of the death may be unclear. If drugs are suspected, the first thing that will take place is police involvement and an investigation.

Sudden and Unexplained Deaths

Whatever the situation, a family finding out their loved one has died will always come as a shock. If you did not know that your loved one used drugs and/or alcohol, you may feel disbelief and feelings of ‘this can’t be true’, ‘how could this happen to my family?’

The circumstances of the death may be unclear and if drugs are suspected, it changes what families have to face as police will be involved.

Depending on what has happened, some families may experience emotional and psychological trauma in the situation.

Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of very stressful events that can make you feel frightened, helpless, overwhelmed and may lead to isolation. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatised. Families often say that the recurring feeling of being helpless to make their loved one’s drug and/or alcohol use go away leads to increasing stress levels and helplessness.

When we are in shock or frightened, our body’s natural survival response triggers us to protect ourselves. This is the body’s automatic response that you cannot control. This is usually called the ‘flight or fight’ response but in cases of emotional or psychological trauma, this response is actually ‘flight, fight or freeze’.

Your brain decides you can’t run away from the situation, you can’t fight your way out of it, therefore it is best just to freeze. This slows down time and allows you time to figure out what you should do next.

To freeze is a useful survival response but the problem is that sometimes when the ‘freeze’ response has been switched on, it can take a while to switch back off. This can cause intrusive thoughts about what happened to your loved one, flashbacks and emotional numbness, feeling on edge, difficulty sleeping and feeling anxious.

If your feelings are overwhelming, you can always speak with your GP. Support from friends, your family, the wider community and support from services can help you work through your feelings and trauma.

We have a whole page on Sudden and Unexplained Deaths with information on police investigations, post mortems and other steps you may need to go through. This information can also be downloaded here.

‘After years of heroin use my son became very different from the quiet shy little boy I brought up. I used to long for his cuddles and the love that he used to have for me. He changed so much through his drug use but I still loved him. He was my boy, he struggled with life and it destroyed me when he died. It’s been five years since I lost him and with the help, I received from the recovery community I am adjusting to life without him, he was such a big part of my every day, it’s difficult to fill the time.’ – Margaret (name changed)

Supporting Someone Through Bereavement

Supporting someone through bereavement can be challenging. Many people withdraw from others when they grieve but having a family member or friend supporting them can help them feel better.

If you are struggling at work or are an employer supporting a bereaved employee, Funeral Guide has put together information on bereavement in the workplace.

purple heart

Show kindness and compassion

Showing kindness and compassion may seem obvious but when we are busy and stressed in our own lives it can be easy to forget. No matter what the circumstances are of the death, the feelings of loss are the same as anyone else. Offer your condolences, give the person time to talk, listen to them and try not to make assumptions on how they must be feeling. Turn off your mobile and any other distractions and give them your full attention.

Language is important

You may not realise it but some of the words you use may be judgemental and make the person feel worse. Words like ‘junkie’ or ‘addict’ are very negative and stigmatising. Try to avoid using these words and respect the person who has died. The person may use this language themselves but it is not appropriate for you to use them too.

Every bereaved person is an individual

Try not to assume that the person who is grieving is like every other grieving person you have met. They may have different feelings and experiencing grief in different ways. Try to remain open-minded and listen to their feelings. Show comfort, support, and empathy. Listen to what they have to say and be there for them. Sometimes having support from someone is all the person needs at that moment.

Everyone can give something

Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who has died. It is important to acknowledge them and not avoid them. Ask the person you are supporting what they want from you and what may help. Sometimes they may not know what they want. Little things can help e.g. picking up milk, taking the dogs out for a walk, putting on washing, etc. Let them know that you are here for them and they have your contact details. Don’t assume that someone else will support them, always ask first to make sure.

Work together

Let the person know that support is available to them – either support through yourself or from support services. If you are not sure of suitable services you can do some research on their behalf. Our website is a good place to start and also our helpline 08080 10 10 11 or helpline@sfad.org.uk or webchat.

Bereavement Counsellor Network

To be able to support families from all areas in Scotland, we have a bereavement counsellor network. Counsellors provide bereavement counselling on our behalf and are added to our counsellor register. We will pay for up to 6 sessions for each client we refer to you. We pay up to £40 per session maximum.

If you are an accredited bereavement counsellor in Scotland and want to be added to our register please email bereavement@sfad.org.uk.

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