What Not To Say to a Grieving Parent Who Lost a Child to Heroin Overdose

grieving parentsPeople have strong opinions about heroin and addiction.  And while the Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide community and family encourages and supports open discussion and sharing genuine opinions good or bad, there are certain things that just shouldn’t be said to a grieving parent who lost a child to a heroin overdose.  While most men and women know how to be tactful and a certain amount of couth and diplomacy should go without saying, it’s unbelievable just how many uneducated individuals have made a grieving parent feel ashamed and ridiculed for having a son or daughter who previously suffered from heroin addiction.  This article is meant to provide some support and encouragement to the grieving parent along with advice to individuals they come in contact with related to what and what not to say about their lost child.

A Grieving Parent is In More Pain Than You’ll Ever Know

lost a child Unless you’ve experienced it personally, an honest person will acknowledge the reality that there’s simply no way to understand or comprehend the level and significance of losing a child.  Personally, I don’t have children and thus, there’s no way for me to fully comprehend what it’s like to lose such a large part of your life and yourself.  However, as an individual with a counseling background and a human being, I know that there are some words that are just inappropriate to say to a grieving individual, especially a parent who has lost a child to a drug overdose.

Stomping Stigma Associated with Addiction

Grieving the loss of a loved one from heroin overdoseOne of the reasons some people speak inappropriately to a grieving parent who lost a child to the clasps of a substance use disorder is because they’re uneducated about addiction.  Most individuals have couth and don’t intend to cause more damage to an individual’s grieving heart.  But with no prior knowledge or a lack of understanding about addiction or drug use, certain words or phrases said can be downright harmful and hurtful.  Thus, before attempting to console a grieving mother or father who lost a child to addiction, we highly recommend taking the time to learn at least the basics related to addiction.  See “10 Myths (and Truths) About Addiction – Debunking Addiction Fallacies” for information that will make talking to and consoling a grieving mother or father a bit easier.  They say knowledge is power, but it’s also the gateway to building relationships and communication.

Addiction is a Disease – Definitions of Important Addiction / Recovery Related Terms

We’ve been over this dozens of times but it seems highly necessary to repeat from time to time.  Addiction is a disease of the brain.  It’s not synonymous with drug use or dependence.  They are related but separate entities.  Below, we’ve provided a brief vocabulary list with definitions and information that are very important.


We define addiction as a cognitive compulsion and ubiquitous connection to an object, so much so that living without it feels and seems rationally and behaviorally impossible.

Object of Addiction

A substance or activity ones becomes completely obsessed with.

Drug use

The physical act of consuming a substance for a particular purpose.  See “Addiction Vs. Drug Use: Why Addicts Can’t Just Stop Using Heroin“.

Drug Abuse

The physical act of consuming too much of a substance recreationally for a “high”


: The body’s physical reliance on a substance to the point that without it, the body will go through a physical withdrawal.  See “Addiction Vs. Dependence: What is the Difference?


The body’s physical response to ceasing or stopping a substance that you’ve become dependent on.  Learn more about “heroin withdrawal symptoms


When a person in recovery takes action (after struggling with using and trigger thoughts) to re-engage in their object of addiction.  Learn more about “Why Relapse Isn’t a Sign of a Failure


A person, place or thing that induces thoughts of drug use.  Learn more about “Knowing and Avoiding Triggers in Addiction“.

Using Thought

An actual thought of using drugs, that left unchecked can turn into a relapse

Trigger Thought

A memory of a person, place or thing that often turns into a using thought.

Knowing the above terms will help you communicate with and console a grieving parent without offending them or stepping on their toes.

Downright Ignorant and Rude People

grieving parentsRegrettably, no matter what someone knows, there are always at least some people who are blatantly and intentionally rude.  These individuals have no couth and they don’t care if they step on your toes or make you feel worse than you already feel.  They are very insecure in themselves and for some reason, making you feel small or bad about yourself is their coping mechanism for dealing with their own life of stressors and shame.  These are the people who will say to a grieving parent things like “your child chose this life” or “they brought this on themselves”.  This could be written off as ignorance and a lack of education but even those who don’t have a full understanding of addiction wouldn’t be so bold and cruel to sing the whole “addiction is a choice” song to a parent who just lost their child to a drug or a heroin overdose.  Nonetheless, overly rude, insecure people do exist and regrettably, grieving parents do sometimes run into them.  These are the self-proclaimed know-it-all types who don’t care about anyone but themselves.

What to Say to a Grieving Parent

While it may sound cliché, the standard “I am so sorry for your loss” and “I will pray for you” can be words of comfort, not in it of themselves, but it shows that a person is thinking of and cares about them.  Listening to a grieving parent who wants to talk about their son or daughter is a great way to be there for and comfort them.  Sometimes it’s simply better to listen rather than speak.  After all, there’s nothing you can say or do that will take their pain away anyway.  Thus, even acknowledging that you can’t possibly comprehend the amount of pain they are in and by letting them know that you’d take away their pain if you could can be encouraging words.  Asking if there is anything you can do for them or offering a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen can also go a long way.


Don’t pretend to be a self-proclaimed know-it-all or preach to grieving individuals, especially those who’ve lost their son or daughter to a heroin overdose.  Instead, offer comforting words, be there to listen, give them a hug if possible and if you’re comfortable doing so and ask if there’s anything you can do to help them during this difficult time.

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Written by William Seemiller (William Charles on Facebook) for Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™

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5 thoughts on “What Not To Say to a Grieving Parent Who Lost a Child to Heroin Overdose

  1. Pingback: Megan Sarah Joins the Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide Team & Mission of Saving Lives - Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide

  2. Thank you for this article. My cousin’s daughter recently passed at age 29. She used drugs since she was a teen and never really broke free. This will help me speak words of comfort and encouragement to my cousin and her husband.

  3. I was just reading your page, and I wanted to know if someone can get back to me, I need some help someday ice on this subject it’s very hard and I’m trying very hard to help my older Brother he just lost his son due to what my nephew had a problem with

    I just need to know if I’m saying the right thing. Trying to keep a straight head by trying to keep him calm cause I understand he wants to hurt the ppl that hurt his son and that’s not how to handle it and not gd for him or my nephew. I’m sry DK if it’s coming out right. But I’m trying to hold everyone up and trying to make sure my brother don’t hurt himself in the process. If someone can write back and maybe give me guedince cause I’m starting to feel like there gonna hate me for saying things idk

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