Eight Reasons Why Detachment Is Good for Your Addicted Loved One

by Beverly Conyers
April 20, 2020

Anyone who’s ever attended a Twelve Step meeting knows that detachment looms large as a way to cope with an addicted loved one. “Detach with love,” we’re told, “if you want to preserve your sanity.”

 

Which is all well and good, you may think, but what about the addict? Don’t we have a duty to try to help? Doesn’t detachment seem a little bit—selfish? A little bit like, well, giving up?

 

It can definitely feel that way at first, especially if we’ve come to believe that our loved ones can’t get clean without us. But here’s the problem: the longer we’re a passenger on the roller coaster of addiction, the less we’re able to provide any meaningful help. When we’re right there with them through those peaks and valleys, we can’t step back, regain our balance, and offer the kind of clear-sighted support that might make a difference.

 

Detachment is neither unloving nor unkind. It’s simply accepting the fact that we can’t live our loved ones’ lives for them. It’s coming to understand that detaching with love is one of the best things we can do for our addicted loved ones. Here are eight reasons why:

 

  1. Detachment lets fresh air into your relationship.
    If you’re involved with an addict, chances are your relationship has become unhealthy. In our efforts to rescue our loved ones from their self-destructive choices, we often resort to nagging, scolding, crying, threatening, shaming, or other damaging behaviors that create conflict and tension. All that stress gives addicts one more reason to use—one more excuse for turning to substances to cope.

  2. Detachment allows addicts to face consequences of their choices.
    Wouldn’t it be great if we could learn important life lessons simply by being warned about negative consequences? If that were the case, we’d all make fewer mistakes and have fewer regrets to look back on. Unfortunately, most of us have to learn through experience, which means facing the consequences of our choices. That includes addicts. To fully comprehend the negative effects that substances have on their lives, they have to suffer the consequences of their choices.

  3. Detachment saves addicts from the harmful effects of enabling.
    Enabling means doing for others what they could and should be doing for themselves. When we try to solve their problems and soften the pain that addiction is causing them, we’re preventing our addicted loved ones from taking a crucial step toward maturity: facing problems and learning from success and failure. When we enable, we keep our loved ones perpetually dependent and immature.

  4. Detachment empowers the addict to behave like an adult.
    Addicts tend to get stuck at the age they were when they started using. That’s because addiction limits their exposure to the kinds of experiences that promote emotional growth: preparing for a career, finding a job, forming meaningful relationships, developing a moral belief system, and becoming financially self-supporting. When we detach with love, our addicted loved ones have the opportunity to look inside themselves to develop the resources they need to build satisfying lives.

  5. Detachment allows addicts to experience the satisfaction that comes from personal accomplishment.
    Sometimes, when we solve problems and find solutions for our addicted loved ones, things turn out well. The problem is, it’s our accomplishment, not theirs. They don’t get to experience the satisfaction and build the self-esteem that come from knowing they did it on their own.

  6. Detachment deprives addicts of a convenient scapegoat when things go wrong.
    Sometimes, when we solve problems and find solutions for our addicted loved ones, things go wrong. When that happens, our addicted loved ones can point the finger of blame at us: “This is your You set this up and now look what happened.” Even if it’s the addicts who turned a wonderful opportunity into a disastrous mess, our involvement makes us the target of their anger and disappointment. Instead of looking at their own role in the outcome and learning from the experience, they look at us.

  7. Detachment reduces the shame our addicted loved ones feel about themselves.
    Most addicts don’t like themselves very much. On some level, they know they’re messing up their lives, but they don’t know how to stop. Their sense of shame grows deeper every time they see us look at them with disapproval, every time they disappoint us. Shame is one of those damaging emotions that can keep addicts stuck. One way we can stop contributing to their shame is by detaching from our expectations of them and allowing them to find their own way.

  8. Detachment is an expression of love.
    Far from being a selfish act or an act of giving up, detachment can be a powerful expression of love. When we detach with love, we are expressing our belief in our addicted loved ones. We’re saying: “I believe you have the inner strength and intelligence to handle this yourself. I believe you’re going to find your way through this.” What could be more loving than that?
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Beverly Conyers

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14 Comments

  1. Hi
    Thanks for your insights. I’m learning to detach from my son while he is getting help. I appreciate your words.

  2. Exactly what I needed this morning, thank you.

  3. This article is so good! Every point has value and I’ve used it in my personal life. My son is two months sober and agrees with my decision to detach so he can grow in these areas. Thank you for your wisdom!

  4. Great words

  5. This is very true, I know in my heart! But how do I stop?? My son lives with me. On probation, no license, no job, no friends except addicts, and we live in the country.I know you are right. Thank you!

  6. This truly made the biggest difference in my life as I was dealing with my sons addiction. Detachment WORKS! And I realized it is the deepest kind of love a mother can do. Thank you for helping me grow and giving me these tools for guidance.

  7. Thank you for affirming us who’ve done this yet still struggle with the choice to physically and emotionally step-back.
    This truth is appreciated and needed. I’ve been loving my addict son through his addiction for 12 years now. Up until recently I thought by “doing” everything for him (because he said he couldn’t and begged for my help) I was helping him when in reality I was totally enabling. I’ve been living and enjoying life so much more and giving much needed attention to my husband, children and grand children these past 3 months. Yes, I still think about my son, yes, I check in with him once a week and tell him I love him but he no longer ambushes my time and thoughts. I do lots of praying for my boy and the millions of others who have a loved one in the throws of addiction. Again…thank you for taking the time to write this!

    Mary, Meridian, ID

  8. Excellent article and points out this isn’t only good for the addict we love. It’s good for us who we need to learn to love and be kind to also.

  9. Great read and a great reminder that detaching really does work!

  10. Thank you this is what I needed to read. I have become so dysfunctional myself that permission to detach in a living way may be a way to get back to a life of ones own

  11. This is exactly what I needed to hear. I know I must detach and let him be responsible for his own actions and the consequences that will happen. I know he can do what needs to be done because I’ve seen him do it when he was well. Thank you so much for writing this.

  12. Thank you for sharing these words of wisdom! I read your post every morning and it has really resonated with me. I am a work in progress on this action. Much appreciated!

  13. Thank you for sharing these words of wisdom! I read your post every morning and it has really resonated with me. I am a work in progress on this action. Much appreciated!

  14. Thank you so much! I detached from my 37 yo son in Nov/18…,by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done…I miss him so much but all through the years of manipulation, etc…he wasn’t a son but an angry raging addict…being plagued with guilt today your article soothed my wounds…thank you… Cheryl


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