Bereavement through Alcohol and Drugs

by Abbie Llewelyn

Bereaved through Alcohol and Drugs (BEAD) is a project that was set up four years ago to offer peer support to people who have lost someone due to drug or alcohol use. Funded by the Big Lottery, it is a result of a partnership between Adfam, a charity which supports the families of drug and alcohol users, and Cruse Bereavement Care, the biggest bereavement organisation in the country.

Over the last four years they have helped support a number of people who have been bereaved in this way through peer support, either 1-to-1 or in a group setting. Although the peer support element of the project has recently come to an end (due to funding), they also launched a comprehensive website that offers information, guidance and practical advice for those bereaved due to drugs and alcohol:

Robert Stebbings, Policy and Communications Assistant at Adfam, has worked on this project for the past year and emphasised the importance of this kind of support. He said:

“The research we did leading up to the project found that losing someone to alcohol or drugs can be an incredibly isolating and distressing experience and it’s important for people going through it to speak to people who can understand what they’re going through.”

Adfam and Cruse undertook a scoping review that found that support for people who have been bereaved from drugs and alcohol was severely lacking and that an important aspect of this support was being able to talk to someone who can understand. Other than the groups set up by BEAD there are only a few others in the country (Rebound in Portsmouth, DrugFam in High Wycombe, SWADS in Swindon, BTA in Bristol and FASS in Glasgow) specifically for people who have been bereaved in this way, which can mean that people often end up suffering in silence.

For some people, their family member had suffered with addiction for years, so the sadness at the death is combined with the ongoing emotional strain that the drug misuse had on the family. They may feel confusion, guilt or even self-blame. Meanwhile other people, who may have lost their loved one from a drug overdose for example, may not even have known that they took substances and the first they learn of it is when the police knock on their door. This can be a huge shock to go along with the grief. The shame that families sometimes feel can make them reticent to talk, especially when they struggle to find people can understand what they’re feeling.

One client, before they received support from BEAD, said:

“Friends didn’t know what to say or do. People don’t understand the loss of an alcoholic or drug addict, they think it’s self-inflicted. So, friends avoided me rather than just be there for me.”

Another said:

“It’s a double bereavement and therefore complex. You have already lost your loved one to drugs or alcohol so the grieving process may have already started.”

BEAD trained a number of peer support volunteers who themselves had been bereaved through alcohol or drugs, to be able to support others going through a similar experience.  Due to the diversity of experience, BEAD tried to pair people up who had a similar kind of bereavement – not only the type of bereavement but also their relationship to who they have lost, whether it was a partner, a parent, a child or a sibling. A range of emotions and experiences amongst both the peer supporters and the clients allowed this to work, and the stories on the website also reflect a wide range of experiences.

The impact of this has been huge for the people its helped. BEAD has received plenty of positive feedback on the project, especially regarding the relationship between clients and their peer supporters and there has been a marked improvement in the emotional wellbeing of clients in the time in which they have accessed the services.

One beneficiary of the service said:

“It was a bit of a godsend really, being able to speak to someone who had lost their partner because of alcohol as well, so the feelings of guilt she could understand.”

As well as the peer support, BEAD also aimed to provide family members with information about bereavement through drugs and alcohol. The legacy of this is the website that was launched in March, made in conjunction with one of the peer supporters from the programme, who designed the website. It means that BEAD can offer wider support, guidance, practical advice and comfort to the bereaved, as well as signposting them to places where they can receive more personal support. It also contains a range of personal stories that show people who are suffering that they aren’t alone in this.

BEAD hopes to raise awareness of drug and alcohol bereavement and how important it is that people get support. If you have lost someone due to drugs or alcohol, you can access the website HERE.

Words by Abbie Llewelyn. Tweets @Abbiemunch

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