When You Love Someone Who is Addicted, Love Yourself More

By Lorri Irrgang

You want to share love and feel loved by the person who is struggling with addiction, but often all you feel is a broken heart. No matter how hard you try, you cannot get to a place of emotional connection or availability. It feels like every time you reach out, you end up disappointed. And if you love them too much, you risk crossing the line to enabling. If you are not careful, you can love your addict to death.

To most of us that have had this experience, the idea of detaching from this person seems heartless, cold and the ultimate betrayal, yet it just may be the most helpful step you can take. Only when you detach can you shift the focus from your addicted loved one to yourself. It is essential that you rekindle the love for yourself—and for the rest of your family who are also broken hearted and scared.

When my journey began, I often heard the phrase, “hitting rock bottom” in reference to when an addicted person would reach out for help. Every addicted loved one has a different breaking point where they finally crumble and ask for help. At one point, my son had totaled his car, spent a night in jail and did not leave in the fall to attend the college of his choice on a lacrosse scholarship. I thought for sure this would be his “bottom,” but I was wrong. This experience did make me realize, after much pain, anger and sadness, that I had reached my bottom and that I was the one that could change. In order to survive, I had to make choices that would help me break free from the chaos of addiction and take responsibility for my own mental health.

Although I love my son dearly, I began to detach from him and set clear boundaries, including cutting him off financially. I could no longer be involved in funding his addiction. When we eventually asked him to get clean or leave our home, he left. It was unimaginably painful but I knew I had to love myself and accept my limits. It was my responsibility to myself to get healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually, just as it was my son’s responsibility, at some point, to get sober. I sought help from my family, a counselor and a support group. I began to recover. I was able to feel stronger and healthier. I could take care of my daughter and be productive at work.

This detachment was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, yet I’m convinced that it was the right choice for me and my family. I never stopped loving my son, but I chose to focus on myself and the healthy members of our family so that we could be stable and unified. When my son finally decided to get sober, we were strong enough to support him through the very difficult journey of recovery.

Lorri is a Family Peer Support Specialist for MCF and offers support, resources and help to other families dealing with substance use challenges. If your family is struggling, reach out to MCF. We understand because we’ve been there. Our services are free and confidential.