Healthy Detachment for Parents of Addicts

Let Go of Your Obsession

What is healthy detachment? There was a time when I had no clue. My husband and I first learned about detachment at a conference for parents fo addicts. I wasn’t sure I had the strength or courage to let go of Renee’. I was too nice, too scared, and too weak. Besides, it felt cruel, unloving.

I’ve talked to many hurting parents who have the same opinion. Confused, they don’t believe detaching is the right thing to do. In our culture, to detach often means being indifferent, disinterested, unconcerned, not caring. Perhaps that’s why it feels confusing and wrong. But this isn’t what they promote in recovery circles.

The kind of detaching they recommend is to separate ourselves from the adverse effects of another person’s destructive behaviors. Physical separation isn’t always required. It’s neither kind nor unkind. It doesn’t imply judgment or condemnation. It’s not cutting ourselves off from the people we care about but from the agony of our involvement with them. Detachment helps us to be more objective.


What We Learned

Our recovery groups taught us there’s nothing we can say or do to cause or to stop another person’s destructive behavior. We’re not responsible for our children’s problems (unless they are a minor) or their recovery from them.

Detaching allows us to let go of our obsession with them. Then we can begin to lead happier, healthier lives.

We can live with dignity.

We can still love them without liking their behavior.

When we begin to stop enabling, we begin to detach.

We start reaping emotional and psychological rewards.


Through detachment, we can learn to stop:

  • suffering because of the actions or reactions of other people
  • allowing ourselves to be used or abused by others in the interest of their own needs
  • doing for others what they can do for themselves
  • manipulating situations so others will eat, go to bed, get up, pay bills, not drink or use drugs, or behave the way we want them to
  • covering up for some else’s mistakes or misdeeds
  • preventing a crisis if one will occur in the natural course of events

How You Can Know When You’re Learning to Detach

I knew I was learning to detach when I stopped looking at Renee’s social media pages, stopped calling to check up on her, slept better without the torment of wondering if she was safe, quit calling her friends to ask if they’d seen her or what they thought about her condition, worried less about the consequences she might face, didn’t feel guilty about not helping financially or not paying her medical bills, no longer reminded her about taking care of important details and didn’t feel bad about it, and when I could put her problems out of my mind. I knew I was making progress because I was gradually experiencing more peace and less angst, I could focus more on myself and my life and less on hers.


This Bible verse encouraged me:

“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

God of peace, strengthen me to detach from my troubled child in a healthy way. I need to for my own well-being, but it’s so hard. I’m tired of the agony of being overly involved in their problems. I’m relying on you for the courage I need. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


*Today’s blog is an excerpt from my book, You Are Not Alone: Hope for Hurting Parents of Troubled Kids, p. 114-116. Available here to purchase from our website or wherever fine books are sold. 

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4 thoughts on “Healthy Detachment for Parents of Addicts

  1. When I was taking classes in pastoral counseling one of my professors spoke to us of “letting the problem be the problem.” This resonates with “detachment,” separating ourselves from the consequences of our children’s actions and attitudes. I read this also in the story of The Prodigal Son. The father did not follow his younger son into the far country. Although he waited for his son to return, it seems clear in the story that he went on with life, especially with his older son. The father did not check on the foreigners or friends his younger son hung out with and he did not go to the pig sty to see how his son was doing.

    I pray for this kind of patience in waiting for my son to come back and in detaching myself from the life he is living. There are so many small signs that he is returning and I am so tempted to run to where he is. However, I think that until gets closer to “home” I need to wait.

    • Thank you for your comment, Jesse. Yes, it’s really hard, but it seems to have a better outcome when we wait for their return, just like the father of the prodigal as you mentioned. Lord, give Jesse waiting grace!

      Warmly in Christ. Dena

  2. My journey has been a little over 3 years from awareness of my daughters addiction, to 10 months of sobriety, and now a relapse. Understanding “detachment” has always been cloudy for me. This blog clear. Thank you!! I am more healthy then I knew. The two best supports, after my faith in God, are my 12 strep program and your web site. I will read your book.

    • Thank you for your comment, Kathy. We are very grateful to hear that our website is a source of help and for how well you are working the 12 steps! I pray God will use my book to help you even more. If you like it, would you mind posting a customer review on Amazon? That will help other brokenhearted parents find it too!