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Consultation findings for the BEAD project

BEAD: Bereaved through Alcohol and Drugs

This report outlines and discusses findings from a consultation conducted by Cruse and Adfam in 2014 into the experiences and views of people bereaved through drug and alcohol use. Its purpose was to fi nd out more about the support this group of bereaved people had or had not received, both immediately after their loved one died and in the longer term, as well as asking what support they felt would be most benefi cial. This has closely informed the direction Cruse and Adfam’s BEAD project is now taking. Cruse and Adfam would like to record their thanks to all those who responded to the survey and/or took part in phone interviews and consultation workshops as well as the organisations which promoted the consultation, in particular the University of Bath and DrugFAM.

Whilst all types of bereavement can be very diffi cult and painful for loved ones, there are certain factors which can complicate and exacerbate the grieving process when the bereavement is related to drugs and alcohol. Family members’ responses showed that the following factors are particularly important:

• Drug and alcohol-related bereavement can cause immense damage to families and to relationships within the family, and an inability to grieve can lead to prolonged mental health issues.
• It is not uncommon for families to blame themselves, and if the person who died was seriously ill or deeply unhappy before their death, this can evoke many conflcting feelings for those left behind.
• A lack of information about their loved one’s treatment and incredibly difficult choices about how to support their loved one before they died can make the experience of grieving very complicated. Family members are often left with many unanswered and sometimes unanswerable questions.
• The circumstances of death can be particularly traumatic.
• Attitudes by professionals, authorities and wider society to drug and alcohol deaths can lead to a feeling of stigmatisation for bereaved family and friends.
• Drug and alcohol deaths are often viewed as less acceptable by society, due to perceptions and judgements around immorality, illegality, poor choices and defi cient parenting.
• The shame and stigma that result from these attitudes can present an obstacle in seeking informal and professional support.
• Media attention and sensationalist coverage of the bereavement can exacerbate the challenges facing families, as well as delays in processing the death due to legal formalities. Family members felt that in order to be effective, support needed to be nonjudgemental and well-informed, and many welcomed the idea of support from peers, i.e. others who had been through a similar experience.

This report outlines the views of this group of bereaved family members in more detail. An in-depth exploration of relevant concepts from bereavement theory and research, and the ways in which families can be affected by substance use (including the impact of stigma) can be found in Adfam and Cruse’s literature review of drug and alcohol bereavement, also produced as part of this project.