How do I detach with love? My child has become my addiction and I am exhausted.

A MomPower mom recently sent a plea many of us can relate to. She said, “I would love some information or steps on how to detach with love as well as self-care. [My child] has become my addiction, and I am exhausted.”

I know all too well the feeling of being “addicted” to my child’s addiction. Recently, I read about a study titled “Prefrontal Cortex Functioning of Family Members of Those with Substance Use Disorder,” which was being conducted out of Texas Tech University by researchers Shumway and Bradshaw et al. The prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain that controls executive functioning, and it is where our planning and decision-making is done. The researchers found in functional MRI testing that “family members often exhibited similar impairment and decision-making difficulties as those with a SUD.” They are now doing more extensive research on the mid-brain.

What that all means is that our constant overwhelming and possibly illogical urges to “fix” and “help” our loved ones are similar to the cravings they get to use drugs. The trauma and constant stress, in the case of the parents, cause changes in the brain so extensive that, when researchers presented parents with an image of their loved one going to treatment, the same parts of their brains lit up in the fMRI as the addicted person’s did when they were having a craving. So when you feel like you just can’t control yourself, and you need to ignore your own needs and be on constant high alert, there really is evidence to suggest you may need to fight what your brain is telling you to do just as our children must when they have a craving. It makes more sense now, doesn’t it? Research like this on family members may be the key not only to understanding why we do what we do, but also to helping us find better and more effective strategies to cope.

Hopefully, understanding why it is so difficult to stop being consumed with our loved one makes it a little easier to force yourself to be rational about this irrational disease. Remind yourself that if you fall apart, you won’t be able to help your child if and when she wants your help. It’s impossible and unnatural to detach from your own child. However, you can and should remind yourself of what you have control over and what you do not. We can let our children know they are loved and that we are here for them when they are ready. Sometimes we need to believe in them until they can believe in themselves but still be cognizant that they will be doing the hard work of recovery themselves.

Yoga, meditation, EFT (tapping), and exercise in general have all been found to help with trauma. If you’ve had a loved one struggling for any length of time, you have definitely experienced trauma. Isolating is a typical response, but connecting to others who are supporting a loved one who struggles will not only help you access information based on experience but also reinforce that you are not alone. If you are able, find a trained family recovery coach who can mentor you as you go through this extremely difficult time. Remember there is hope. As frightening and dangerous as this disease is, over 23.5 million people live in active recovery. That means there is always hope!

For more information on the research study, please visit Brain Research: In the Same Way Addiction Sufferers Crave Substances, Their Family Members Crave Them.

Disclaimer: The above advice is not meant to be construed as medical or legal advice. If you need professional medical, psychological, or legal advice, please contact a doctor, lawyer, or medical center.

Maureen Cavanagh is a peer recovery coach and interventionist who works with families and loved ones supporting a person struggling with a substance use disorder on their own recovery. She is the founder of Magnolia New Beginnings and Magnolia Recovery and Consulting, and the author of If You Love Me: A Mother’s Journey Through Her Daughter’s Addiction and Recovery, published by Henry Holt/Macmillan. You can learn more about her at

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Questions for Coach Cavanagh


  1. Hi CC , at this point for me the best thing I can do is get my homeless daughter the message, that no matter what this 35 yr history has been, she is still my one and only daughter that really was loved all along. ❤️Luv u all Moms!!jan

    • I love that Jan. Unfortunately, our children don’t always live the lives we had imagined and hoped for them but we love them nonethless!

  2. I too was “addicted” to my sons’ addictions. My oldest son Tom died Aug 31,2017 from overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl and other substances. My middle son Jim is currently in federal prison for transporting meth. He is 55 and was sentence to 20 years. I’m almost 82 and pray that he is released at an earlier date.
    I have two other adult children, my youngest son is CFO of a major international company and my daughter is admin of a private hedge fund. So I was so torn al the time spending all my thoughts and money on my two addict sons. I’ve been in therapy and was convinced it was not “my fault” although I still harbor resentment towards my ex-husband who was extremely abusive and controlling. Then I discovered CoDA (Co-dependents Anonymous) and started working on my own co-dependent behaviors. I have been in CoDA 4 years now and I believe it has helped me tremendously in recognizing my part in the family dynamics. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts.

    • Wishing you all the best Lorraine.

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