Parental grief after a child's drug death compared to other death causes: investigating a greatly neglected bereavement population

Omega (Westport). 2011;63(4):291-316. doi: 10.2190/OM.63.4.a.


This comparative survey contrasted 571 parents who lost children to various death causes: 48 to drug-related deaths and overdoses, 462 to suicide, 24 to natural death cases, and 37 to mostly accidental death cases. Groups were compared in terms of grief difficulties, mental health problems, posttraumatic stress, and stigmatization. Results did not show any appreciable differences in these respects between the suicide bereaved parents and those losing children to drug-related deaths. However, when the suicide and drug-related death survivors were specifically contrasted against accidental and natural death loss cases, a consistent pattern emerged showing the former group was consistently more troubled by grief and mental health problems than the latter two sub-groups. These differences remained when controls of time since the loss and gender differences were employed as covariates. These findings suggest that the powerful and intense stigma against drug use and mental illness, shared among the public-at-large, imposes challenges in healing of immense proportion for these parents as they find less compassionate responses from their significant others, following their losses.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Accidents / statistics & numerical data
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bereavement*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Drug Overdose
  • Female
  • Homicide
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Narcotics / poisoning*
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Prescription Drugs / poisoning*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data
  • Survivors / psychology


  • Narcotics
  • Prescription Drugs