Detachment From Addiction

family holding hands - detachment from addictionA family member or friend facilitating an addict’s treatment and recovery is often casually referred to as “tough love.” What immediately comes to mind is the moment of elucidation, perhaps at an intervention, when deeply rooted problems are addressed directly and the truth is dragged into the light. Such an event is considered the point at which an addict’s loved ones stop enabling his or her addiction. Certainly the patterns of behavior that have permitted and even assisted dependency have been suspended, but successfully identifying the sort of action or inaction that has enabled an addict, and effectively eradicating it in an effort toward sustained recovery, is a long and difficult process. This is more effectively known as detachment from addiction.

Enabling encompasses a whole range of behavior, from anything as obvious as financially supporting an addiction and taking personal responsibility for an addict to ignoring the problem altogether. Recognizing and avoiding actions that are facilitating dependency is no easy task. In other contexts some of these deeds would qualify as selfless, charitable, and virtuous. A parent, spouse, sibling, or even a child often naturally responds to a loved one’s suffering and pain with kindness, assistance, and love. Ending this behavior and exposing an addict to consequences and hardship, in contrast, feels cruel and maybe even selfish.

“Tough love,” consequently, functions well as the euphemism for the decision to stop enabling a loved one. It reassures us that we still love the person, and provides a sense of will and determination. However, the momentary confrontation and abrupt reversal of behavior the term implies is far from any lasting solution.  The healthy course of action is both less satisfying and more difficult.

Detachment from addiction, unlike conflict or assistance, allows both the addict and his or her family and friends to start on the road the recovery. Tough love, only in as far as it might help an addict into recovery, is merely the first step. But for the process of healing to begin, the unhealthy relationships and routines that have fostered an addiction must be eliminated. Self-worth, faith, peace, and purpose can only be found when not only the substance, but also the familiar crutches and patterns of behavior have been removed. This applies equally to the addict and the family member or friend.

“Detachment,” like “enabling,” assumes a different meaning in the context of addiction. To enable, after all, is a positive action; while detaching might often feel like giving up. However, detachment in the course of recovery becomes a proactive response, in that the addict and the family can begin to progress individually and take personal accountability for the first time. One of my family members defines detachment using an adage she learned through Al-Anon: “Let go and let God.” In contrast to “tough love,” taking oneself out of the equation and leaving the addict in the hands of a higher power, and him or herself, feels inadequate and unnatural. This is precisely what makes avoiding enabling behavior a constant struggle.

That same family member, admitting she has often been tempted to revert to such conduct in the face of adversity and setbacks, advised that relatives and friends of a recovering addict rely on Al-Anon and treatment professionals for support with detachment from addiction. Ultimately, and this is no insignificant feat, embracing a strategy that so clearly contradicts our natural inclination and intuition, requires tremendous faith.

Eric Button About Eric Button

Eric Button is the President of Addiction Directions, a Sober Living, Monitoring and Accountability program in Austin, TX. AD is one of the most respected programs in the industry, and leads the way with the work it does with families.

Eric began his recovery in 2005, and the passion of his life is helping others. To learn more about Addictions Directions, visit their website.

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