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Bereaved through substance use

Guidelines for those whose work brings them into contact with adults bereaved after a drug or alcohol-related death

Welcome to your copy of these Guidelines, which are for all those whose paid or voluntary work brings them into contact with adults bereaved through a drug or alcoholrelated death. By adult we mean any family member, colleague or friend (including those who use drugs and alcohol themselves) bereaved in this way. This easy-tofollow guide shows how best to respond to these bereaved people, enhancing both your work and their well-being.

The Guidelines are based on the first large scale research project in Britain into the experiences of adults who have been bereaved through a drug or alcohol-related death. The research found that these deaths, not at all unusual in the UK, are particularly difficult to cope with and that those left behind have mixed experiences of the services they have to deal with. While some people reported positive experiences, others experienced poor, unkind, often stigmatising responses, which added to their distress and left them feeling alone, confused, hurt and angry at an already very difficult time. Much poor practice resulted from practitioners not understanding this kind of death and the issues involved.

These Guidelines share what we have learnt of good practice. Their authors are a Working Group of your peers, including members of the police; the coroner’s court; drug and alcohol services; a GP; a paramedic; a funeral director; a university chaplain; and a bereavement counsellor. Some of us have had personal experience of bereavement through substance use. As practitioners, some of us have made the kind of mistakes highlighted by the research.

These Guidelines cover the work of a range of organisations, so they mostly offer general guidance. Therefore we recommend that you implement what you consider relevant to your work. We hope you will share these Guidelines with your colleagues; you could identify someone to lead on implementing them in your team or organisation. Working with bereavement can be demanding and stressful, and it may re-stimulate our own grief for those we have lost. So it is important that you look after yourself as well.

The Guidelines are based on five key messages identified from research interviews with 106 bereaved adults and focus groups attended by 40 workers and bereaved adults. Therefore the guidance is for adults, although we list some resources for helping bereaved children at the end. Each message is illustrated by quotes from the interviews, questions for you to consider and our suggestions to support your work. They apply at any time, even years after the death.