Grieving a Drug-Related Death in the Context of One's Own Drug Use: An Exploratory Study

L.B. Selseng*, M. Stroebe, S.K. Lindeman, K. Dyregrov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Drug-related deaths (DRDs) are a major societal challenge. People who use drugs are at particular risk of witnessing DRDs, and of losing people close to them to a DRD, and experiencing an overdose or other health issues themselves. People who experience sudden, unexpected, and stigmatized deaths, such as DRDs, are found to struggle more afterward than when the death is more natural and expected. Additionally, people who use drugs are more likely to experience a complicated grieving process following the loss of someone. Despite this, knowledge about the connections between a person's own drug use and reaction following bereavement from a DRD is scarce. This article makes a start at filling this knowledge gap. Based on interviews with people who used drugs and were bereaved following DRDs, the article explores how the bereaved spoke about the relationship between their drug use and losing a close friend or intimate partner to a DRD. We present four types of stories about the relationship between grief following DRDs and drug use. Informed by the Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement, we discuss the stories and highlight how drug use is used to handle emotional overload, how drug use leads to uncommon expressions of grief, and how the relationship between grief and drug use may lead to an avoidance of the reality of loss. We point out that drug use and grief are strongly intertwined and how stigma associated with DRDs and drug use creates obstacles to openness and relating to social networks in support processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-474
JournalContemporary Drug Problems
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • bereavement
  • drug use
  • drug-related death
  • dual process model
  • grief
  • stigma


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