08/29/2014 05:01 pm ET Updated Oct 29, 2014

Addiction: Survivor's Guilt and Heroic Parents

moodboard via Getty Images

Sunday, Aug. 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, which is described on the event's website as:

A global event held on August 31st each year [that] aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have met with death or permanent injury as a result of drug overdose.

Drug abuse has become an epidemic in our country, and drug overdoses are claiming more and more lives here each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Drug overdose was the leading cause of injury death in 2011. Among people 25 to 64 years old, drug overdose caused more deaths than motor vehicle traffic crashes.
  • Drug overdose death rates have been rising steadily since 1992 with a 118 percent increase from 1999 to 2011 alone.

Those figures are beyond alarming, and as a society we have to do all we can to reverse the trend. We have to educate the world about addiction and attack the stigma associated with the disease. International Overdose Awareness Day is a great opportunity to do this. I urge you to participate in the event in any way you can, to show support for those we've lost and their loved ones -- especially their parents.

As the father of a son in long-term recovery from addiction, I have been working hard for several years to help break the stigma associated with addiction. Through my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and my work with both the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and Heroes in Recovery, I've come into contact with dozens of parents who have lost a child to addiction. And it breaks my heart. Their kids were good kids -- just like mine -- who weren't as lucky as mine. And they were good parents -- just like my wife and me -- who weren't as lucky as us.

One question that goes through my mind quite often, especially when events like International Overdose Awareness Day come along, is this:

Can you suffer from "survivor's guilt" even if you are not the actual survivor?

When I look back over the last eight-plus years, there's no question that what my wife and I went through with our son was a horrific nightmare. But it's nothing like the nightmare of losing a child. Not even close. Let's face it: My son and my family have suffered greatly -- emotionally, physically, and financially. Our lives were turned upside down by addiction. But in spite of that, our son is now more than two years clean and sober.

He's alive. He has survived. He's living his life.

When I think about that I am overjoyed. There are no words to describe how grateful I am every single day. But at the same time, I occasionally feel quite a bit of guilt. I wonder why our son is finally on the right path, while other parents have had to suffer the devastating experience of burying their child because of this insidious disease called addiction.

I cannot even imagine what losing a child to drugs would be like. Lord knows I've thought about it a lot. For a while, I was terrified that it might happen to me. And I'd be lying if I said it's not something I still think about from time to time when I allow my mind to wander out of the moment. I try to put myself in those parents' shoes and wonder what they feel. I wonder what I would feel. But the truth is, no matter what I think it would feel like... it must be a hundred times worse. Probably a thousand times worse.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

Many of these special parents are some of the most incredible human beings I have ever met. Despite experiencing the worst thing a parent could possibly experience, they are fighting to help prevent other families from having to go through what they've gone through.

They are putting themselves out there, raising awareness and taking action against drugs and addiction. They are working hard to turn their tragedy into a positive thing for others. What tremendous courage that must take. These people, who have lost a child to drugs, are making a difference. They are real life heroes and they are to be commended.

Please take a few moments on Aug. 31 to remember everyone who has been affected by a drug overdose. Remember: It can happen to anyone.

Note: Here are a just a few links to websites created by some of these parents. I urge you to visit these sites, read their stories, and support their causes.

atTAcK addiction
Dedicated to Tyler Armstrong Keister

Shatterproof (formerly Brian's Wish)
Dedicated to Brian Mendell

Henry's Fund
Dedicated to Henry Louis Granju

Zoe's Story
Dedicated to Zoe Kellner

Kacie's Cause
Dedicated to Kacie Erin Rumford

the harris project
Dedicated to Harris Marquesano

Gregg's Gift
Dedicated to Gregg Grossman

Tyler's Light
Dedicated to Tyler Campbell

In Loving Memory of Jon Morelli
Dedicated to Jon Morelli

Jake Koenigsdorf Foundation
Dedicated to Jake Koenigsdorf


Have a story about substance abuse or depression that you'd like to share? Email, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.