Society For The Study Of Addiction

Guidelines to Support People Bereaved by Alcohol or Drugs

In June 2015, the Universities of Bath and Stirling, supported by a bereaved family member advisor, published a set of Practice Guidelines to help everyone whose work brings them into contact with people bereaved through a drug or alcohol related death. The Guidelines are based on the first large scale research project in Britain, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), into the experiences of adults who have been bereaved this way.

The content of the guidelines was developed following 100 interviews with 106 adults (66 in England and 34 in Scotland), and 6 focus groups with a total of 40 people.  The interview sample included parents, partners/spouses, adult children, siblings, nieces and friends, all of whom had experienced this type of bereavement.   Focus group participants came from a wide range of disciplines and organisations, and included some people who have been bereaved in this way.  Overall, the wealth of qualitative data accumulated by the project highlights that these deaths can be complication, and hence especially difficult to grieve, for a number of reasons.  Furthermore, while some bereaved people reported positive experiences of the services and agencies they came into contact with, many others experienced poor, unkind, often stigmatising responses which added to their distress at an already very difficult time.  Much poor practice resulted from workers and professionals not understanding this kind of death and the issues involved.  Bereaved people can also be daunted by the myriad of individuals and organisations who they may encounter following such a death.

Therefore, the aim of the Guidelines is to outline for a range of professionals, using 5 key messages, how they can best respond to this vulnerable group.

The 5 key messages are:

  • Show kindness and compassion.
  • Language is important.
  • Every bereaved person is an individual.
  • Everyone can make a contribution.
  • Working together.

Ultimately, the project and the Guidelines aim to help address the needs of a group of people who have been largely neglected by research, practice and policy.

The Guidelines can be accessed and downloaded from the University of Bath website.  If you want to find out more, or to request hard copies of the guidelines, then please e-mail

by Lorna Templeton (on behalf of the project team – Linda Bauld, Peter Cartwright, Allison Ford, Gordon Hay, Joan Hollywood, Jennifer McKell, Christine Valentine, Richard Velleman and Tony Walter).

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