Detachment: Best Al-Anon Lessons for Living with Addicts

For friends and family members of an alcoholic, one of the most difficult and important aspects of recovery is learning to “let go and let God”. In the Al-Anon program, this concept is known as “detachment”. Detachment teaches those in some kind of relationship with an alcoholic to detach from their loved one’s addiction in a healthy manner.

A major component of Al-Anon is learning that those who live with another person’s alcoholism did not cause, cannot control, and cannot stop their loved one’s drinking. Detachment teaches us how to relinquish our obsession with the alcoholic’s behavior, letting go of our attempts to control or influence them, and allowing ourselves to live happier, more manageable lives.

Having some kind of relationship with an alcoholic often involves trying to care or manage their addiction. The stress and exhaustion of caring for or about someone with the chronic disease of alcoholism can lead to frustration, anxiety, depression, and even unsafe living conditions. For this reason, detachment from the situation is one of the most important steps for achieving emotional well being.

What Al-Anon Teaches About Detachment

  • Not to suffer due to other’s actions
  • Not to allow ourselves to be used or abused by others in the interest of another’s recovery
  • Not to do for others what they can do for themselves
  • Not to manipulate situations so others will eat, go to bed, get up, pay bills, not drink, or behave as we see fit
  • Not to cover up for another’s mistakes or misdeeds
  • Not to create a crisis
  • Not to prevent a crisis if it is in the natural course of events

detachment [longevity live]

But What About the Alcoholic?

Here’s the step that most get hung up on. “But they need me” says the codependent person living with an alcoholic. “Without my help, they could end up (fill in the blank)”. Jobless, homeless, friendless, possibly even dead… the list of fears that a codependent lives with are enough to keep them awake at night. However, Al-Anon asks that we surrender our addict to a higher power.

It may seem cruel. It may seem like we are turning our back on the person we love. It may seem like a death sentence. But there is simply no other option. The alcoholic is the only one who can decide to get help and stay sober. If they don’t learn to deal with the repercussions of their actions, they will never face reality. Detachment is the way to let an alcoholic fully grasp the reality of the situation.

Detachment is Neither Kind nor Unkind

There is the common misunderstanding that detachment implies anger or malice, or should be carried out with some kind of righteous indignation. Detachment is not severance from love, detachment should be with love. You are detaching from the situation because you choose to no longer sacrifice your own happiness for the sake of someone who does not reciprocate.

You are fully accepting that nothing you can do will change what the alcoholic does. You are removing the focus from the addict back on to yourself, protecting yourself from the abusive behavior and refusing to continue enabling it. From the Al-Anon handbook itself:

“Detachment helps families look at their situations realistically and objectively, thereby making intelligent decisions possible.”

Detachment sounds straightforward, but it is not so simple or easy that it will happen overnight. Detachment requires time, patience, love, and support to get through. Fortunately, for those struggling with detachment, there are daily Al-Anon meetings across the country full of supportive, caring individuals who have gone through the same experiences. It’s not an easy process, but you don’t have to go through it alone.