Date of Award

Spring 5-18-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

MA - Master of Arts


Expressive Therapies


Rebecca Zarate


In the year of 2017, 18.7 million Americans aged 18 years or older were reported to have a substance use disorder and the pervasiveness of substance related deaths escalated (McCance- Katz, 2017). Researchers have examined how grief experienced by substance users and their loved ones is often disenfranchised by social stigmatization, loss of support, and feelings of regret, blame, humiliation, and shame. According to Valentine, Bauld, and Walter, (2016) “bereavement following a drug or alcohol related death has been largely neglected in research and service provision, despite its global prevalence and potentially devastating consequences for those concerned,” (p. 283). Studies demonstrate a need for further research on death and loss within contemporary societies, while highlighting the demand for psychological support and resources for the bereaved impacted by substance abuse. The purpose of this literature review aimed to contribute a better understanding of this population and connect existing research to piece together the best practices to better serve them. This critical literature review consists of three sections examining the individualized grief experiences of this population within western cultures, the consequences of addiction, and drug use stigmatization. Lastly, the literature on grief support groups, substance abuse resources, and expressive art therapy practices will be summarized. Results uncovered certain themes and areas of complex grief within this population to consider for clinical applications in expressive art therapy support groups. For example, expressing secret and negative feelings about addictions in a safe, non-threatening way within a therapeutic group setting can bring victims out of the isolating effects of stigmatized loss (Mayton and Wester, 2018). Furthermore, this thesis discovered gaps in the literature for interventions designed to provide assistance for healing after drug-related losses.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License




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