Substance abuse is a huge problem in America today, affecting families from every stratum of society. To find out how parents can help their adult child who are using and how they can help themselves, too, I interviewed an expert on the subject, Dr. Maureen Murdock.
At the same time you are identifying your adult child’s substance abuse, confronting him, and getting him into treatment, you need to be paying attention to yourself. It’s hard not to get sucked into the 24/7 drama that is addiction. As the “strong one” you find yourself being hyper-vigilant, forever waiting for the next relapse or disaster, always on high alert should you need to don your Superman cape and swing into action. Despite the best of intentions, your child’s struggle with drugs becomes your struggle until all boundaries are gone and healthy caregiving deteriorates into co-dependency. Not only can immersion in your grown offspring’s problems drive you crazy, it can make you sick. It also lessens your ability to be helpful.
Although it seems counterintuitive, stepping away is key, says Beverly Conyers in her 2015 article for the Hazeldon Betty Ford Foundation, “Eight Reasons Why Detaching with Love is Good for your Addicted Loved One.”
- Detachment lets fresh air into your relationship. If you’re involved with a substance abuser, chances are your relationship has become unhealthy.
- Detachment allows abusers to face the consequences of their choices. Most of us have to learn from experience, including addicts, which make life experiences so much more impactful than warnings.
- Detachment saves abusers from the harmful effects of enabling. When we do for them what they could and should do for themselves, we’re keeping our loved ones perpetually dependent and immature.
- Detachment empowers the abuser to behave like an adult. Addicts tend to get stuck at the age they were when they started using. Detaching gives them the opportunity to develop the inner resources they need to build satisfying lives.
- Detachment allows abusers to experience the satisfaction that comes from personal accomplishment. If we’re over-involved, when things go well it’s our accomplishment. When things go wrong it’s our fault.
- Detachment reduces the shame our addicted loved ones feel about themselves. By detaching from our expectations of them and allowing them to find their own way, we stop contributing to their self-loathing.
- Detachment is an expression of love. Neither a selfish act nor an admission of failure, detaching with love states that we believe the substance abuser has the inner strength and intelligence to make it. As Conyers says, “What could be more loving than that?”
Beverly Conyers is the author of Addict in the Family: Stories of Loss, Hope and Recovery. She began writing about addiction when she discovered that her youngest daughter was addicted to heroin. She is convinced that, “There is no such thing as a hopeless case. Everything can change even when we least expect it, and the miracle of recovery happens every day.”
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