Alcoholism and addiction are family diseases. These diseases play out and affect all loved ones in the addicted person’s life. While the person is in active addiction or even in their recovery, they may be unable to control their behaviors and will not change until they are ready. Until the addicted person decides to make healthy strides toward sobriety on their own, loved ones must establish boundaries, stop enabling the individual, and practice loving detachment. This is easier said than done, but living with loving detachment is the best thing to do for the addicted person and the loved ones themselves.
In her book, The Addict in the Family, Beverly Conyers describes her childhood living with a mother addicted to heroin. Along with her personal insight, as well as those of other families, Conyers discusses the necessity of detaching from the addict and allowing natural consequences to occur. Detaching from the addicted person, as she indicates, involves learning to recognize when loved ones are taking over the person’s responsibilities and has transitioned from providing a support system to becoming an enabler.
Detachment does not come naturally for empathetic people. For instance, when parents see children struggling or when friends see someone they care about spiraling downward, it is natural to step in and help. However, intervening to fix everything in another person’s life eventually becomes harmful for all those involved. For loved ones of addicted individuals, overly attached behavior will begin to impact their physical and mental health.
How Al-Anon Defines Loving Detachment
In Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, members are taught about the importance of detachment. However, these programs make detachment easier by reminding members that loving detachment does not mean walking away or blocking your heart from caring. Simply said, detaching with love means that individuals continue to love and care, but stop trying to be problem solvers for addicted loved ones.
According to Al-Anon literature, “Detachment is neither kind nor unkind. It does not imply judgment or condemnation of the person or situation from which we are detaching. It is simply a means that allows us to separate ourselves from the adverse effects that another person’s alcoholism can have upon our lives.”
The program’s message is that detachment does not mean that individuals have to stop caring about their addicted loved one. Instead, loving detachment sends the message that family members and friends do not approve of their loved one’s behavior and that they will no longer be willing to support that behavior in any way. Loving detachment involves becoming less emotionally involved by choosing to turn away from the cascading problems associated with addiction and ceasing any attempts to solve them. The aim of loving detachment is to prioritize their own personal life and self-care above everything else.
Importance of Detaching With Love
To begin detaching with love, there are a few core beliefs and ideals that loved ones of an addict need to incorporate into their thinking about their loved one and their addiction. First off, it is important to accept that the loved one did not cause the problem. It becomes easier to see and accept this with loving detachment because loved ones can finally see that their addicted family member’s actions and choices are what is causing their problems. As a result, addicted individuals must also face the consequences of their actions. No matter how much the addicted person buries the blame for their addiction on someone else, it is critical for loved ones to detach from this type of thinking and allow the person to become responsible for their own life.
Loved ones need to accept that no matter how much love or effort they give to the person, they do not have the power to control what the addict or alcoholic does, either good or bad. Acknowledging this powerlessness allows loved ones to detach and let go of their sense of responsibility.
A 2018 study posted in the Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior peer-reviewed journal showed that addicted individuals had higher levels of impulsivity, sensation seeking, and other high-risk behaviors. These facts are directly related to the impulsive and destructive choices that addicted people often make. In sum, letting go of trying to control the family member’s behavior is a part of detaching with love.
By detaching with love, loved ones can maintain the same caring relationship without suffering from burnout, anger, and frustration. It is inevitable that loved ones will eventually become overwhelmed by someone else’s heavy issues and may be at risk of burnout or compassion fatigue. Constantly being selfless and giving up on goals in order to try to help an addict can often backfire, instead creating codependency, mental health issues, and other unhealthy behavior.
Detaching with love also gives the addicted person confidence in themselves. Loving detachment is a way of demonstrating to the addicted person that they have the ability to control their own life’s course. This is a powerful and positive message which the person can carry through their recovery.
How to Practice Loving Detachment
There are a few simple ways that loved ones can practice loving detachment while still treating their friend or family member with respect and love. First off, detaching with love involves ensuring that the loved one’s own career and health come first. Addicted individuals can be egotistical and will often do anything to get their way. Detaching means stopping the cycle of codependency and enabling. Making excuses for addicted people or buying them drugs or alcohol so they do not experience withdrawal symptoms blocks them from the real-world consequences of their addiction.
If a loved one is addicted and needs help, encourage them to engage in a treatment center or a program led by professionals in the field. At Boardwalk Recovery Center, our clients are under our care, and this allows family members and loved ones to release control and practice loving detachment. Additionally, while practicing loving detachment for themselves, loved ones may want to seek professional help to explore all that they have been through with the family disease of addiction. This could include seeking help from groups like Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, or individual therapy. In many cases, doing nothing for the addict is the kindest act a loved one can do for them