Dr. Drew: Loved Ones Should Acknowledge Addiction-Related Deaths

By Kelly Burch 05/23/17

Pinsky believes the fear of speaking openly about the cause of these deaths often comes from stigma associated with addiction. 

Dr. Drew Pinsky

Dr. Drew says that deaths caused by addiction should be talked about openly and honestly, without family members hiding a loved one’s cause of death because of shame. 

“If people want to sanitize it and say something like, ‘My son died of a brain disease that included behavior that has him shooting drugs,’ OK I’d go with that, if you want to change the nomenclature,” he said. “But let’s not pretend that that’s not what killed people or that’s not what that person had, that they died of ‘exhaustion’ or that they needed to be ‘hospitalized for dehydration.’ Let’s stop it already.”

Dr. Drew Pinsky is a board-certified addictions specialist, who's become a household name as the host of Celebrity Rehab. In his line of work he comes into contact with many individuals and families whose lives have been touched by addiction, and he often appears in the media when there is an addiction-related death. He also hosts the radio show Dr. Drew Live.

He was a guest on the radio show McIntyre In The Morning when he urged families to tell the truth about addiction. 

Pinsky brought up the story of parents who had written in their son’s obituary that he died of a heroin overdose. Stories like this often make headlines because they break with the tradition of silence around drug-related deaths. 

“To me, it was sad that it made the news, because it shouldn’t be, in my humble opinion. Because somebody died of addiction, it shouldn’t be thought of any differently than of somebody died of pancreatitis. It’s just a brain disease,” Pinsky said. “But now these people are being elevated as being sort of courageous. OK, but I think it’s a symptom of the rest of us being uncomfortable with the diagnosis.”

He added that the fear of speaking openly about the cause of death often comes from our societal assumption that addicts are bad people. 

“Don’t mistake the fact that addiction makes people do bad things with the notion that these are bad people or that addiction is bad. I mean people in the throes of addiction get very desperate and they are not themselves at all and their brain is diseased and it causes behaviors that are characteristic of the diseased brain and they die oftentimes.”

Although more families are choosing to speak out about loved ones lost to addiction, the decision over whether to include the true cause of death is still immensely personal for all families, and there is no correct answer. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.