How We Can Help an Addict with Detachment

In certain Eastern spiritual teachings, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, detachment is the key to moksha or release and a necessary step toward spiritual progress.

The same word may crop up when you consult with an addiction counselor. “Detach with love,” you’re told, “if you want to preserve your sanity.”

You may ask: “But what about the addict? Shouldn’t we try and help him? Isn’t detachment a little selfish – like giving up?”

Here, we need to first recognize the fact that we have not been able to help the addict by getting very involved with his or her affairs. Actually, it’s like riding on a roller coaster with the addict. We ride through the peaks and pits of the ride. Our perspective gets clouded. We are not able to step back and offer any clear-headed support that might make a difference.

Detachment is not unloving, nor is it unkind. It is simply accepting the fact that we really cannot change our loved one’s behaviours – they need to do so themselves. The best we can do is to understand that detachment with love is the best we can do. Here are eight reasons why:

Detachment allows some fresh air into your relationship. If you’re involved with an addict, it is most likely that your relationship has become unhealthy. You are probably resorting to scolding, nagging, threatening or other damaging behaviours in a bid to rescue your loved one from his or her self-destructive behaviours. There is constant conflict and stress in the relationship. All this tension actually serves only to give the addict one more reason to drink or use drugs!

Detachment allows addicts to face consequences of their behaviour. Addicts slip into denial because they are not allowed to face the consequences of their choices. Therefore, they don’t feel the need to change. The family members may be rescuing and protecting them, even covering up and cleaning up for them. Detachment means the family member allows them to suffer consequences so that they fully comprehend the negative consequences of their choices and get motivated to change

Detachment helps in putting a stop to unhealthy enabling. By rescuing and protecting the addict, the family actually does not allow the addict to learn and grow. We all learn more from our mistakes, not from mere lectures and scoldings. By the unhealthy ‘support’ the family member may be providing the addict, they are actually enabling the addict to continue his or her addictive behaviour and remain forever dependent and immature.

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.

Detachment allows addicts build self-esteem through personal accomplishment. If we continually solve problems for the addicted loved ones, it appears be a good solution. However, this only makes us feel satisfied since it is our accomplishment. The addict does not experience the satisfaction of solving his problems and achieve anything on his own. If we allow them to solve their problems and achieve something on their own steam, they have an opportunity to build healthy self-esteem.

Detachment makes the addict responsible for their own behaviour. It deprives the addict the opportunity to make you or others a convenient scapegoat when things go wrong. Sometimes, when we solve problems and find solutions, things may go wrong. In that case, our addicted loved ones can blame us: “This is entirely your fault. You tried to do things your way and look what happened!” Our involvement makes us the target of their anger and disappointment. They are not likely to look at their own role in creating the mess or learning from the experience. Instead, they are likely to turn us into a scapegoat which gives them another excuse to continue drinking or using drugs.

Detachment reduces the shame of the addicts. At some level, addicts and alcoholics do realize they are messing up their lives, but they don’t know how to put a stop to their self-destructive behaviours. They do feel shame. Every time we disapprove or reproach them, this shame gets deeper. Shame can be a debilitating emotion that stops addict them from seeking help. When we detach ourselves from our expectations of them, we allow them to find their own way.

Detachment is actually an expression of love. Detachment may appear to be selfish or an act of giving up, but in reality it is a powerful expression of love. When we detach with love, we are strongly 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 do you can solve this on your own.” Now, that’s real love!