How to Let Go of A Drug Addict You Love: Knowing When It’s Time To Let Go
Loving an addict is one of the most difficult things that can happen to most people. Whether you’re in a romantic relationship with an addict, or it’s your child, parent, or someone else you’re close to, it’s incredibly difficult to continue loving someone with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. While you may make your best effort to help them, at some point, you might also have to understand how to let go of a drug addict you love.
What It’s Like Loving An Addict
The experience of loving an addict can be slightly different for everyone, but there are some general commonalities that most people say they experience. First, when you love an addict, you have to understand that their addiction takes precedence over everything else, including you. People can start to take it personally, and it understandably hurts them deeply to feel as if the addict they love only cares about the drugs or alcohol, but the addict’s brain is driving them toward placing the substance at the top of their priority list.
No matter what an addict says or promises, they are only driven by their desire to continue using, and there’s not much of anything you can do to change that. Also when you love an addict, they are going to lie, cheat and steal to get what they want, which is more drugs or alcohol. They can be charming and manipulative when it serves their purposes, and as the loved one of an addict, it’s essential that you understand that it is nothing more than just that: manipulation. When you love an addict, you may constantly feel that you’re on edge, or worried when that dreaded phone call is going to come.
So what can you do when you love an addict?
There’s very little you can do, and you certainly can’t fix the person. Addiction is a complex disease, and there’s no amount of threatening or begging that’s going to eliminate the problem. Instead, one of the best things you can do when you love an addict is make sure you’re not enabling them. Enabling an addict refers to behaviors or scenarios where you’re removing consequences from the behaviors of the addict. It can be as simple as lying for the person or covering for them.
Once you’ve identified how you are enabling the addict, you can start setting boundaries and outline consequences. Then, one of the only real actions you can take to help an addict is to stage an intervention and arrange for them to go to addiction treatment. What happens if that doesn’t work though? When is it time to give up, and how can you let go of an addict you love?
How to Let Go Of A Drug Addict
You may come to a point in your life where you have to let go of an addict you love. This is often after they’ve refused treatment, or continued to use drugs despite your attempts to create boundaries and consequences. Unfortunately, learning how to let go of a drug addict you love is much easier said than done. There are some steps you can take once you have decided the time has come to let go of an addict you love.
First, you will need to separate yourself, both physically and emotionally. During this time, it’s important that you find a strong support system because you will need it. Often loved ones of an addict will participate in a group of other people whose loved ones are an addict. When you do that it can help you move forward in a positive, productive way, and also understand that you’re not alone. During this time you will also need to create a list of things that you know you will have to change as part of your goal of letting go of an addict you love.
If you slip up on some of the commitments you make to yourself during this time, it’s okay, and you can continue moving forward without being too hard on yourself. What’s most important as you learn how to let go of a drug addict you love is simply to do your best. You should also try to find things that you enjoy doing for yourself, and you should work on creating the life that you want without the inclusion of the addict.
Finally, when you’re exploring how to let go of a drug addict, as hard as it may be you have to let go of fear. Loving an addict often means that you’re plagued with constant fear, and that can lead you to feel depressed or hopeless. You have to try and work on letting go of those feelings and taking care of yourself while moving forward.
Let Go of Regret
When your partner is using substances it’s easy to rethink the past. It is normal to also feel pain, shame, and regret and feel like something you have done or reactions you have had are part of the problem. These are uncomfortable and sometimes “sticky” emotions, meaning that they can be hard to shake off.
Feeling shame about your own actions or thoughts is one thing, but feeling shame about your partner’s feelings, experiences, or actions can introduce an entirely new set of emotions. The real experience of living with someone who is abusing substances can be intense and uncomfortable. You may feel angry (i.e., “I can’t believe you keep drinking after everything that’s happened!” or “You are a disgrace to our family”), ashamed (i.e., “only weak people have problems with drugs”).
During this time, it’s important that you practice self-compassion. Self-compassion is accepting that we are all flawed and imperfect individuals. Everyone struggles and faces hardships—it is part of being human. It’s ok to acknowledge that things are not ideal right now and that the people you love are suffering. You can ask for help and support from those around you who care about you. You can reach out to your community and to people who have gone through similar things.
You might fall into a trap of thinking that things are “supposed” to go a certain way. When things don’t go the way you planned (i.e. your partner is struggling with addiction) you might beat yourself up about it. Do not dwell on feeling shameful of whatever situation your family is going through. This can lead you to isolation and may cause further problems.
Learning self-compassion takes time and practice. Below are some more ways to practice self-compassion:
- Write a letter to yourself: Writing can be a therapeutic exercise. Try sitting down and writing about something that makes you feel insecure or bad about yourself. Try not to overthink whatever emotions you have about it; just write down your emotions exactly as they are. Then, imagine a friend who loves and accepts you unconditionally. Write a letter to yourself from the perspective of this loving, kind, and compassionate friend. What would they say about your “flaws”? How would they remind you that we are all human? This letter is for you, and you don’t have to worry about anyone reading it. Use writing as a way to process what’s going on in your life and speak truthfully about pain, guilt, or other feelings you have.
- Think kind thoughts to yourself: Our thoughts are extremely powerful, and changing negative self-talk can have profound impacts on your health. You can begin by recognizing what you say to yourself. Your inner self-critic can cause a lot of unnecessary emotional pain. How can you reframe the messages you tell yourself? If you are having trouble thinking of positive self-talk, imagine what you would say to a good friend who is having a hard time. How would you speak to them? Approach yourself with that same kind of warmth and loving kindness.
- Forgive yourself and let go of the past: Forgiveness is a process, and it takes time. By accepting yourself and what you have done in your past, you are helping yourself let go and work through whatever is going on for you in the present moment. No one is perfect, and dealing with addiction is extremely trying. You may have enabled your loved one. You may have stopped enabling and feel extreme guilt about it. You may not know what to do and feel like a failure. Allow yourself to acknowledge the difficulty of your position and forgive yourself for what you see as your mistakes. Try to remain present with your emotions and practice offering yourself kindness when you feel weak.
- Spend time doing things you enjoy: If you are facing challenges in your life, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is how to incorporate more joy into your life. But, think about what brings you joy and try to include as many of those things as possible into your day. By finding more joy in your everyday life, you will become gentler towards yourself and others.
As a partner, you want to care for your significant other, and when they are suffering from a life-altering disease like addiction, this can suck all the energy you have. Take some time to recharge your batteries by:
- Going to a comedy show
- Going dancing
- Taking a nap in the middle of the day
- Practicing loving-kindness meditation
- Hanging out with a friend for an evening
- Listening to relaxing music
- Treating yourself to a massage, facial, or pedicure
- Doing a compassionate body scan (a guided meditation)
- Going for a hike
- Taking a yoga class
- Taking a hot bath
Your partner may confuse your practice of self-compassion with selfishness. You can talk to them about times when you are very stressed or absorbed in self-doubt or judgment. During these times, you probably don’t have much bandwidth left over to think about anyone else or provide true, compassionate support to your loved ones. When your emotional needs are met, it can leave you in a much better place to focus on caring for others.
Help Your Loved One Overcome Addiction
Substance use disorders are serious conditions that can cause major health, social, and economic problems that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up California can provide to you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from addiction with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.
 Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2004). Chapter 1 Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy.