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Support for those bereaved through drugs or alcohol

BEAD is a specialist service for those bereaved through drugs or alcohol which now includes a website to provide information, support and hope.

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Today’s post is written by Oliver Standing of ADFAM.

Disenfranchised grief

The BEAD (Bereaved through Alcohol and Drugs) project was set up to provide practical and emotional support and information for people bereaved through drug or alcohol use. People affected by this particular form of bereavement have long reported high levels of stigma in the way they experience the loss of a loved one, with neighbours, colleagues and sometimes even family members diminishing the loss because of the drug or alcohol element. Researchers talk about a “disenfranchised grief” experienced by this group of family members, with the family unable to remember their loved one and commemorate their death in a “normal” fashion due to shame or stigma. Other family members have felt a degree of self-blame, not necessarily correctly thinking that they should and could have done more to address the addiction of their loved one.

However it’s described or viewed, the need of this group of family members is very real. Figures from the Office of the National Statistics showed that there were 8,758 alcohol-related deaths in the UK in 2015 and 3,674 drug-related deaths in England and Wales in the same period. The majority of deaths (65%) were among males, and for both sexes rates were highest for 55-64s. There has always been a strong correlation between drug/alcohol morality and social inequalities.

Some of the family members that we have worked with told us:

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.

It is 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.


Building on the work of groups including DrugFAM and Rebound, Adfam started work in 2013 in partnership with Cruse Bereavement Care and funded by the Big Lottery until August 2017, on the BEAD project – delivering support from trained peer volunteers to people who have been bereaved though substance use. Over those years our brilliant volunteers have provided 1-2-1 support to dozens of clients and we’ve also run three rounds of a structured peer support group in London.

Some people who’ve received support from the volunteers told us:

It felt like a bit of a godsend really… being able to speak with someone who has lost a partner because of alcohol as well, so a lot of the feelings of guilt she could understand…  

It was connecting to people who had experienced the same things and connecting with them and supporting each other.

Flickr user Anathea Utley (Creative Commons)

Online information, support and hope

Last month we broadened the reach of our support by launching the BEAD website. This new site aims to be a source of information, support and hope for anyone whose loved one has died as a result of drug or alcohol use. It outlines where and how to access appropriate support whilst providing information on what to expect when you are grieving as well as practical information on the next steps that have to take place as a result of a death.

Throughout the website there are honest and personal accounts from people who have themselves been bereaved and we hope reading them will make people in a similar situation feel less isolated. The site was designed and developed in close partnership with one of our fantastic peer support volunteers who understood the needs of people accessing this service. It can be accessed at We hope you find it useful, please do share with your clients, colleagues and anyone who would find it useful.

This summer we will be holding the fourth round of our peer support group in central London. These groups bring together those who’ve been bereaved to offer mutual support and share experiences. It’s a closed group of eight weekly sessions and is co-facilitated by two volunteers who have themselves been bereaved.

One former attendee said: ‘The two facilitators had also been through it as well and that was important. If you had had people who knew nothing about it, it would have been ridiculous.

In the next month or so we are running two events for people who have been bereaved to find out a bit more about the topic and meet others facing similar challenges. The days will take place in Manchester (Saturday 29 April) and Birmingham (Saturday 13 May) and are also open to practitioners.

If you are interested in being part of the project or would like any further information please contact Robert Stebbings. Please note our current funding is coming to a close in Autumn so we cannot accept any more referrals for 1-2-1 support.


Blog posts in the drug and alcohol category are kindly sponsored by Breaking Free Group which has developed a powerful and adaptable digital health platform which targets the underlying psychological and lifestyle factors that drive addictive behaviours. Breaking Free has no editorial influence on the contents of this site.

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