Loving an addict is difficult, painful, and often lacks the emotional reward given by normal relationships. Persons who are addicted are often egocentric, reckless, and selfish, and often care more about their next high than a person who is giving up everything for them. Unfortunately, this behavior is unlikely to change, and for the most part, addicts will not change until they decide to do so for themselves. Even forcing a loved one into rehab doesn’t ensure that they will recover, because they must personally want to be clean to make it happen.
While it is easy to sacrifice yourself to care for and to try to help an addict, it most often does not work, and instead creates shared addictions and co-dependency, where you are unable to walk away from the addict because you are too emotionally invested in them. This kind of codependency often enables the addict to continue using, because someone is always there for them and caring for them, and typically taking the brunt of their mistakes. Detaching with love is the process of stepping away from an addict, so that their choices and behavior cease to affect you as much, so that you can make the most of your life even if you aren’t yet ready, or do not wish, to cut them out of your life completely.
Why Detach with Love from an Addicted Loved One?
Detaching from a loved one can be a difficult step, but it can be an important one.
- You Could Be Enabling Their Addiction – If you are taking care of your loved one, giving them money, making excuses for them, paying for their financial mistakes, or even taking the burden of paying for their lodging and food on to yourself when you otherwise wouldn’t, you are enabling them to continue using. By stepping back and forcing them to take responsibility for their own actions, you can ensure that you are not directly funding their addiction which may force them to get clean sooner.
- Codependency – Codependency is an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on your partner, even if they consistently hurt you, fail to follow through on emotional responsibilities, or are emotionally or physically violent. This type of dependent relationship often develops during the intense emotional ups and downs of addiction, where the partner blames themselves for the addict’s behavior, creating unhealthy reliance on the addict for emotional support, which often is not given.
- Yourself – Addicts exist in a series of dramatic highs and lows, where they eventually only feel good or happy when using their substance. This affects everyone in their life, especially cohabiting relatives or spouses, who must live with them and who exist at a level of intimacy where they are less likely to be held back by inhibition. Addicts can become violent, can be emotionally abusive and manipulative, and can seriously degrade the quality of life for people taking care of them, just by focusing only on themselves. If your life is seriously affected by the addict, it is time to step back, focus on yourself, and detach with love.
What Does Detaching with Love Mean?
If you have an addict in your life, then you’ve likely heard the words “detach with love” quite a bit. Unfortunately, few of us actually know what they mean. Detaching with love is the simple process of taking a step back, realizing that this person will continue to hurt you, and deciding to put yourself first. Unlike with ‘tough love’ policies, you still talk to your loved one, treat them with respect and love, and if they are dependent on you, you do not kick them out. You take steps to become less emotionally involved in their decisions and their mistakes, ensure that you are not financially involved, and ensure that you are not taking responsibility for their actions, and that is it. This process can be easy for some, but is most often very difficult, especially for parents and spouses, who are often the addict’s sole caregiver. Detaching with love allows you to step out of the role of enabler or codependent without cutting ties with the person in your life.
How to Detach from an Addict with Love
If you want to step back, you can start with a few simple steps that will put you on the right track to taking better care of yourself, while still treating your addicted loved one with respect and love.
Understand that they are Irrational – Addicts often remain addicted through self-delusion and denial, where they can actually convince themselves that they don’t have a problem, that they can quit any time, and that the repercussions of their actions are not as bad as they are. This means that in any instance where you are dealing with them or arguing with them, you are not dealing with someone who will rationally understand your arguments or your logic. An addict is irrational, will not use logic, and will continue to make irrational choices. In every case, you are not responsible and there is nothing you can do about it.
Stop Assuming Responsibility – We often take responsibility for the poor choices of our loved ones, even our friends. This might be as simple as “He lost his job, I must get one to pay the rent”, or as complex as “She is drinking again because I fight with her about alcohol”. This is especially true in close family relationships, where the non-addict often attempts to rationalize the addiction by blaming themselves. Unfortunately, this is never the case. Addicts make their own choices, and by taking responsibility for them, whether by picking up the slack, paying for their financial mistakes, or taking up their responsibilities, you are doing neither them nor yourself any favors. Step back, choose to stop taking responsibility for their actions, and then plan to ensure that you or your family can take care of the family and provide for them, without involving them in the responsibility.
Putting Yourself First – Detaching with love always involves putting yourself first, making the best decisions for your mental health, and ensuring that your loved one’s addiction is not negatively impacting your own life. This means ensuring that your career, mental health, and medical health come first. This may mean saying no, it may mean putting up with temper tantrums, and it may mean putting physical space between you and the addict. If you live with the addict, you may have to make the decision to find them a new place to live, or move out or away yourself, so that you can distance yourself physically. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore them, only that you should make taking care of yourself a priority, because the addict will continue to put themselves into situations where they need help and you cannot change that.
Stop Giving Without Reciprocation – Addicts are selfish, only care about their drug, and will often lie, steal, and manipulate to get their way. Stepping back means stopping the cycle. If they want something from you, they should do something for you first. This simple philosophy is a general guideline that you can use to stop endlessly doing them favors, taking care of them, or lending them money. While it is okay to offer food and shelter without reciprocation, you should invest the minimum time and effort into them unless they put an effort into being someone you want to help.
Check Out a Support Group – Al‑Anon is a mutual support program for anyone whose life has been affected by someone else’s drinking or using. By sharing common experiences and applying the principles of the program, which are based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, families and friends of alcoholics and addicts can bring positive changes to their individual situations, whether the person using and drinking admits the existence of a drinking problem or not. Alateen is a similar program but focuses on young people (mostly teenagers) whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking or using.
If your loved one is addicted, it is important that you work towards getting them appropriate treatment, usually beginning with drug and alcohol detox and moving on to addiction treatment. Addictions can cause severe psychological and medical side effects, many of which get worse over time. A rehabilitation clinic can offer the medical assistance to safely get them through detox, and then cognitive behavioral therapy to begin changing their behavior patterns to help them to stay clean.
Living with an addict is never easy, but hopefully by beginning to detach with love and removing yourself from responsibility, you can begin to get your life back. More importantly, you can do so without abandoning your loved one, and while giving them the care they need to recover.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, or you just have questions, please call Lighthouse Treatment Center today. We are happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors. Help is available today.