Detach No More

December 7, 2016

Lately, things around the world have been difficult, to say that least. There is political unrest and people are clamoring to feel that their voices are being heard. Many people feel like their chances of making change in their world are stalling, or even going backwards. In the midst of all this unrest, we think it is all the more important to notice when big, positive changes are happening. They give us hope!

We are thankful to see a shift in understanding by some of the leaders in traditional substance use treatment on the meaning of “detaching with love.” In this article by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, these providers lay out their new understanding to mean something very different than it has in the past. Too many times, treatment providers and lay people told families that they needed to leave or distance themselves from their substance using spouse/child/friend (in other words, detach with love) and let them “hit bottom,” In this article, they are shifting it to focusing more on the family member’s self-care. They go on in the article to highlight the dangers of truly “detaching” and explain the benefits of allowing for natural occurring consequences. They also encourage people to start conversations about substance use. This is a major shift in the field; a shift away from tough love and consequences to using science and kindness to help people change.

Why is it important for us to all take a moment to recognize this shift in thought? There is a societal belief that when it comes to substance abuse, family members cannot influence change, that they need to pull away from a substance user in order to save themselves (and let the user fall into the abyss enough times that they will be ready to get out themselves), and that there is little reason to hold on to hope. This belief has helped guide the way that families of substance users have been counseled for generations, and it is both antiquated and ineffective. And, even worse, it is still the prevailing sentiment among some people providing support for family members and loved ones (in spite of the clinical research showing that the opposite is true)

It is our responsibility to help spread this new understanding, as it is a powerful shift towards connectedness, support, and away from alienation, judgement, and stigma. We can help to shift the current of thought by sharing this new meaning, by sharing articles like this one or Hazelden’s on social media, or by just starting a conversation and modeling this new way of thinking about detachment with love.

Recently, Viacom (along with Facing Addiction and CMC, among others) have partnered to also encourage connectedness rather than traditional detachment. To do this, they have started a series of Public Service Announcements that encourage people to start conversations about substance use and really listen to what the person has to say. The goal is not to force people to stop using, rather to help increase understanding and open the lines of communication. Doing that can help facilitate the process of change, and help move someone you care about towards change. You can find out more about this campaign at or at

While the Gandhi quote “be the change you wish to see in the world” is not new to most people, it is apt for this period of time. In the midst of all this unrest and division, there are these calls to increase connection and support. Take this time to help make change by spreading these messages. Help us reduce stigma and shame while increasing kindness and love. It’s not just what someone you care about needs, it’s a message we all could use right about now.

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