Addiction, Enablement, Love, Recovery:

Loving An Addict With Emotional Detachment

27 Jun 2011 by Recovering You, 23 Comments »

Living with an addict, loving an addict, relationship with an addict, addiction


Living with an addict is emotionally taxing. There are no two ways about it.

If you have had an addict in your life for any period of time you will no doubt have felt a whole range of emotions – anger, disappointment, guilt, embarrassment, shame, anxiety, disgust, resentment along with a host of other feelings and emotions.

We blame our addict for the fact we have to endure these feelings and believe that the only thing that will help, is them changing.

We give them power over our emotional balance and we become victims.

Emotional Detachment

For the sake of maintaining your sanity, restoring self esteem and reducing the amount of stress your loved one’s addiction is allowed to bring into your life it is important for you to actively protect your emotional health.

Practicing detachment is an important tool that ensures you don? become a helpless victim overcome by the negative consequences triggered by the addiction of your loved one.

First of all though, know that it is not wrong to be upset by your addicts behavior and actions. I? not asking you to pretend you are not affected by their activities but I am encouraging you to choose to when and how to react and to express yourself in a way that honors you first and foremost and restores your control over whatYOU experience.

Detaching From Your Addict

Detachment does not mean being unkind or ignoring and isolating your addict. It is about setting boundaries and engaging with them in a way that honors YOU and YOUR recovery.

Detachment does not mean you no longer care, but it does mean you remove yourself from engaging emotionally with destructive behavior and blindly following your addict? negative emotional cues.

Detachment means unwrapping yourself emotionally from the damaging aspects of your involvement with your addict.

Detachment means regaining the control over your emotions and taking responsibility for how you respond instead of giving that power to your addict.

Ways to practice detachment

  • Don? save your addict from the situations they find themselves in
  • Let them experience embarrassment, shame, guilt and mistakes
  • Don? feel guilty or bad for the circumstances your addict is in
  • Don? engage in emotionally charged conversations with your addict
  • Choose to walk away with respect rather than react to negative situations

Setting Boundaries

Without emotional outbursts, accusations and FBI scale interrogations your addict won? have anyone to look towards or blame for his actions. You won? be giving them any fuel for the fire that their addiction feeds off.

And it loves to feed off drama.

Perhaps you are saying to yourself ?f I don? make it clear that what they are doing is wrong, won? they just continue??Let? be honest, whether you choose to detach or remain engaged, your addict will only stop when they are ready. Not because of how you react.

So why not conduct yourself from a place of integrity and in turn determine the level of emotional stress you experience?

Practicing detachment is for you. Not your addict. It? for the sake of your mental and emotional health. Not for making your addicts life easier.

Initially it will take a fair bit of effort on your part to not get caught up in the emotional games that addiction loves to play but if you keep practicing detachment, it will become easier and in turn, so will your journey towards recovery.

Have you got questions about what is and is not detachment? Post in the comments below to get support.

Photo credit:) 2010Valentina Monti

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  1. tessy says:

    What is and is not detachment?

    • Rachael says:

      Hi Tessy

      Detachment is about setting boundaries and avoiding engaging emotionally with destructive behaviors.

      It means regaining control over your emotional responses to the damaging aspects of an addicts behaviour and instead understanding that they make their choices and you make yours.

      It’s not avoidance, ignoring or disconnecting from the person we love. But rather maintaing a distance and setting in place a protective filter for what we will let in to cause emotional distress.

      I hope this helps but if not, please contact me again and we can explore further.

  2. Leah says:

    So is it enabling when the addict in my life ends up in jail and his belongings are left behind and we as parents go get them for him?

    • Rachael says:

      Hi Leah

      Thank you for visiting and asking your question.

      Is it enabling to collect an addicted child’s belongings? I do not believe so. This action does not make it easier for them to engage in their addiction nor it does not provide the means to do so. Collecting their items is simply shifting property, much of which often has no value to an addict.

      Enabling would be gestures such as offering to sell any of those items to provide money for an addict, or paying any overdue fees on the property they were left at.

      I hope this helps. This could well be a useful post topic, to help distinguish what sorts of action could or could not be enablement.

  3. Ami says:

    I need to start taking this seriously for myself. I’m relapsing and not detaching at all. I am so thankful for this website.


    • Rachael says:

      Hi Ami

      Be kind to yourself, and keep taking each step, day by day. This journey is hard and can be long, so give yourself love and acceptance and keep trying : )

  4. Anna says:

    Thank you for this helpful site, and good advice, my son is an addict and I have spent many years tying to save him. This including going to meetings with him, sitting for hours on end listening to his tales of woe, trying to encourage him and build up his self esteem, paying debts to drug dealers for fear he would be hurt, all to no avail. Now I feel that I am ready to break, my heart is broke and I am drained mentally, physically and emotionally. My thoughts are on my son from the time I wake (when I sleep) and all day long. I am lost and I feel life is too hard, constantly living by whatever mood he is in or whatever state he is in. I feel like a failure as a mother, my son is an adult in is 30,s and this has been going on for years now. I know I am part of the problem because I am an enabler and it is so hard

    • Recovering You says:

      Hi Anna

      First of all, let me say that you are NOT a failure as a mother. You have NOT failed your son, he is failing himself.

      Yes, you are enabling, and through this you are helping your sons addiction to keep hold of him. But I know all too well, and understand your reasons for why you try so hard to keep his head above water.

      The backlash though is that through enablement, we hurt our addicts more.

      Ceasing enablement is one of the hardest things you will do, but it is essential for you, and for any chance your son has.

  5. amanda says:

    Hi thanks for this website. Me and my husband love each other very much. I try to control his addiction for fear of my own loniless. I also don’t want to be lied to but I know this is part of it. What I struggle with is checking all the time, searching pockets, checking his phone bills etc. are you saying I should stop all of this behaviour as it would help me and help him to rescue himself? I don’t want to sail down the river of denial and know that I catch him out most of the time when I suspect he has lapsed. he is attending counselling for childhood abuse and told me he had lapsed, so my question is should I stop checking and allow him to make his mistakes even tho I know he is lying.

    • Recovering You says:

      Hi Amanda

      Thanks for your question.

      My answer is a resounding yes. Stop checking and tracking your husband.

      I know this seems counterintuitive to keeping him clean and supporting him, but I can promise you that it does nothing towards his actual recovery.

      He may be thanking you for finding things out, but I doubt his sincerity on this. It is unusual to have this kind of appreciation, and continue to engage in addictive behaviours. I would suggest this is his way of smoothing your feathers knowing he has been found out, rather than dealing with your anger. He is manipulating you, and making it seem as if you are his only redemption. All the charms of an addict and I have been played this way many times.

      All your searching and tracking is wasting energy. And as I say, it won’t make an ounce of difference to your husbands recovery. HE must want his recovery enough to not need any kind of ‘outing’, to keep his activities clean and above board. It should not be a case of you having to force him into admission after fault. All you end up doing is becoming a controller, and he will simply become better at hiding what he needs to hide.

      Stop searching out evidence. If you know he is constantly lapsing, then you still have an addict in your life, not someone in recovery.

      It is not your job to try and force his hand by watching him like a hawk. And rather than helping him, you are enabling him. By keeping on top of him, you reduce his need to take responsibility and actively CHOOSE to do things differently, rather than lapsing THEN professing his errors because you have him by the tail.

  6. amanda says:

    I should also mention that after I do find him out, he thanks me and says without my help he doesn’t know how to get back on recovery and would continue longer without my support…..

  7. amanda says:

    Hi not sure you got my first post. Should I stop checking all the time, eg searching pockets, bags, asking why he is 15 mins late etc. I don’t want to sail down the river of denial for an easy life. I think if I don’t check and stop him he will get further into addiction and financial difficulties or loose his job. Which had happened before. We have a mortgage together which he can’t borrow against. We both have separate bank accounts but I worry about pay day loans and if I would be liable. So much to think about isn’t it

  8. esther says:

    What kind of boundary would I set in place to deal with a spouse’s sexual addiction? It’s like food addiction because you need to eat. I am in recovery myself. My husband says he is but not to be judgmental I think he is still in denial. Thank you for this site. You have clarified things for me and how to get on with my life with my addict. Is he my addict? I am really so happy to learn that I have so much more freedom than I thought! My life has been so small and didn’t feel right but I couldn’t put my finger on it! I am so happy to get my power back. I have done all the wrong things on this road but I am still here and in my marriage. I recognize some of my controlling behaviors but rather than feel helpless I see I have control over someone, myself!!! I need a plan of how I am to respond rather than react to my husband’s behavior. I have been angry, bitter, and trying to control him and my reaction to the addiction has been “the problem” as even agreed upon by our pastor. I do see the log in my own eye and that my spouses issues are NOT the entire reason for our dysfunctional relationship. My codependent behavior feeds off him.

    • Recovering You says:


      There are two people in a relationship, each with their own contribution to its happiness and its health. If you are struggling with codependency and issues around addiction, yes, these will contribute to dysfunction, but so too will your husbands addiction.

      While you may feel that your reaction to the addiction is the problem, please do not take on this self blame and understand that the addiction brings many difficulties with it and it takes a great deal of learning to know how to best react and respond to it. We can only do better when we know better and the best way to arm yourself, and to help heal you and possibly provide some element of healing for your relationship is to discover how YOU can navigate this journey with honour, respect and love for yourself.

      You are not the problem, but you can certainly be part of the solution. And if your partner is willing to get help with is addiction, and is able to secure his own recovery, then he too can be part of the solution and contribute to a healthy, positive and loving relationship.

  9. Rick T says:

    My talented 22 year old son is on the street with no food or shelter. He calls constantly for help and help with his impounded vehicle. I find it very difficult to detach my emotions in all thus. Very guilty that my own flesh and blood can be on the street in the same city. Sometimes I need to know that I am right to not help and provide for him in his addiction to H. I often doubt my resolve to let him suffer the consequences.

    • Recovering You says:

      Hi Rick

      I am so sorry to hear of your sons current situation, and his battle with addiction. I understand that your conflict of loving with detachment is one that is almost too hard to bear, and yet I also strongly believe it is vital for both your emotional health, and any chance of recovery for your son. It was hard enough to do this with someone I love and wanted so desperately to make happy, and I can only imagine how difficult it is as a parent. I sadly have many friends that I have met over the past 6 years that are also in your shoes, and so I see the fight that they face each day as a parent against their natural urges to nurture, protect and repair their children. Stay strong Rick, and trust that you are in some small way reducing the impact of addiction on you and your son.

  10. Anna says:

    How do you love an addict in the midst of seperating/divorce with a 3 month old baby? how do you not hold onto hope that they will change and return whole to their family.. as having a child means contact is essential. Therefore making it hard to let go of hope

    • Recovering You says:

      Hi Anna, and thank you for your question.

      There is always hope that someone we love will change, but that hope needs to be paired with a healthy dose of reality about what is in front of you right now. Having your partner seek recovery, and return to the family ready to life a life committed to that recovery is a wish many have, and it is a wish that can be granted, but only by the addict. In the meantime, you must make the best choice for you and your baby, and know that you can still offer love and hold hope, but within the boundaries of what it takes to keep you safe and in a healthy environment for your child.

  11. Shannon says:

    After my 22 yr old child overdosed and almost died in my home – it became apparent they were an addict. We thought alcohol was the d.o.c. – not heroin. We gave our child a choice to go to rehab. Denied they had a problem/said it was only one time/said they could do it on their own. So now our child does not live in our home. Lost their job that weekend as well due to this situation. Told our child they needed help and we would no longer finance rehab. That they would need to find it, fund it and do it in order to have their family back.

    After 2 months we have not heard any word from our child and we have not made any further contact for fear of giving any emotional support. After speaking with the EMTs and Police they had one thing to say. Something needs to change, and since our child wasn’t willing to, we had to.

    This by far, is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. But it’s the only thing I have left and I don’t want to ever go through that again. If my child had died in my home, I never could have forgiven myself.

    This was a wake up call and another chance for ME as well as our child. My heart is broken.

    • Recovering You says:


      I am so sorry to hear about your family’s struggle with addiction. It sounds like you have already taken a number of brave and heartbreaking steps in trying to disable the addiction, but there is obviously a way to go.

      My best wishes for healing for you, and for your child in time.

  12. V says:

    My struggle is after recovery is underway – the addict is seeking to better himself after hitting his rock bottom (missing the birth of our son while in jail) – I love him, but I consciously act cold toward him, almost to prove i won’t be supportive and make the mistake of enabling again. I know this isn’t the right way because it is so extreme, but I’m afraid of te other extreme as well. What does loving detachment look like at this stage? Or is there something else I should be practicing?

    • Recovering You says:

      Hi V

      Thanks for commenting.

      It is difficult, even with recovery underway, to fully trust and to let our guards down. Raising our walls to protect ourselves feels safer, and it is natural to do so after so much damage has occurred. Also, just because the addict in our life is now on the path to recovery, it doesn’t instantly heal the hurt, and often their early recovery is a period of total self focus. It needs to be, it’s important that they really stay focused on what they need to do to cement their recovery into their lives, but it can be difficult as a partner to feel like they understand what they have done, and how it has affected everyone around them.

      You are absolutely right to continue to avoid any enablement and you should communicate that there are still clear boundaries you will be keeping in place. But it’s also important that you allow your partner to have his positive actions recognised, and to understand that while you are not all the way there in terms of forgiveness or willingness to forget, you are keeping the space open to allow him to show his new colours. This doesn’t mean forcing yourself to forget what he has done, that would be naive, but instead remain cautiously aware, while drawing a line in the sand between the actions of an addict, and the actions of someone in recovery. Seeking recovery won’t make him a saint overnight, he will have a lot of work to do, but the most loving way to allow him to do that is to be open about seeing the improvements, seeing the better parts of him.

      It will take work on your part, and it’s slow process, but if you truly believe change is happening let it happen with the support of your love.

  13. […] take a breath, let it go, and practice emotional detachment with your […]

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