Letting Go of Dependence upon Your Parent(s) in Recovery (Step 3)

peace-of-mind-349815_640Contributor: Kirsten Brannen, LSW, Dual Recovery Therapist at GenPsych

Asking for help is hard and it makes sense that one would look to their parents for help in their recovery. Unfortunately, this logic is not usually the best course of action when it comes to treating addiction and maintaining recovery.

Addiction is a disease that affects the entire family, not just the individual who is struggling with their addiction.

In this field, we often see as a result of addictive behaviors, family relationships that are strained and damaged. Trust has been broken, boundaries violated and resentment and frustration are largely what’s left over. These emotions are especially present in the early stages of recovery.

Parents (and Significant Others) are Not the Best Choice for Recovery Support

Addiction is a disease; it is not a matter of willpower nor is it a choice. Addiction has genetic, social, biological and compulsive components. In very basic terms, the brains of addicts are wired differently. The addict’s brain is wired to continually seek the reward of the drug(s) despite the negative consequences of their use.

This concept can be hard for family members and significant others to accept perhaps due to their own belief systems, experiences or lack of education. Additionally, many family members and significant others lack objectivity as it pertains to their children, which can make recovery unnecessarily difficult.

From a developmental standpoint, young adulthood is predicated on the development of intimate relationships that are separate from our parents. Failure to establish these outside relationships can lead to identity conflicts, isolation, loneliness and depression, all of which can be triggers for a relapse.

Moving on to Adulthood

feet-538245_640Stagnation at this phase of development can also prevent one from successfully launching into adulthood and establishing independence as an adult.

In the field of addiction, we often see how the family dynamics affect the individual and can be a trigger for relapse. Early recovery can be volatile at times and learning to cope with the stressors related to family life is essential.

In my experience, clients are used to reacting to emotionally charged situations rather than responding, which requires healthy coping skills. Dysfunctional patterns of interaction within the family structure can trigger difficult emotions and without adequate coping, old patterns emerge and relapses occur.

Codependency and Enabling

Codependency and enabling are two other types of dysfunctional interpersonal patterns that can have destructive results. Codependency in its most basic terms can be described as an individual believing they are not able to function or exist without the other person.

Enabling on the other hand is an individual falsely believing they are helping an individual when in reality they are unwittingly contributing to keeping the person’s illness or in this case addiction stable and enduring. Both codependency and enabling stem from the other person’s desire to help but is often misguided and inadvertently reinforces addictive behaviors.

Al-Anon and/or Nar-Anon support groups are excellent resources for families and significant others who wish to support their loved ones through recovery. Al-Anon provides education and social support to family members and helps the family to recognize they have no power or control over their loved ones addiction.

More information about these organizations for family members can be found here: Al-Anon: http://www.al-anon.org/ Nar-Anon: http://www.nar-anon.org/

A Better Approach to Recovery

friends-438438_640Groups are powerful catalysts for change. That power comes from being surrounded by people who share a common experience and from the individual recognizing that within this group, “I am not alone”. This recognition of not feeling alone is quickly followed by a feeling of relief and acceptance.

Utilizing the power of groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is very helpful in managing recovery. AA and NA are different from group therapy as it is peer run, meaning there is no “expert” (therapist) leading the group. AA and NA groups are led by peers who have demonstrated an extended period of sobriety.

Dependence As a Means to Independence

An essential part of AA relates to the 3rd step, which states: (We) “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.” Dependence as a means to independence.

That last sentence initially seems contradictory and you may be wondering, how can I become independent through dependence? It’s a good question. The answer is through willingness. A willingness to accept the will of God or a higher power, whomever and whatever that God or higher power may be.

In my experience, it is this concept of God that most clients in recovery struggle with. It is especially difficulty for those clients who are atheist, agnostic or feel as though good has disappointed them in some way. Many clients have shared that is helpful to put an emphasis on the part of Step 3 that refers to “God, as we understood him”. This is where individuality emerges in the dependence.


dog-100544_640The individual in recovery must be willing to be open to experiences, explore where their faith resides and place their trust in it. During this exploration, your God or higher power may be the AA or NA group itself, or your sponsor.

It may be your pet or a specific place or object found in nature. The benefit of finding and utilizing God or a higher power is acknowledging that something greater and more knowledgeable than yourself is there to guide you through the many challenges life and sobriety throws at you.

One strategy that is often used to overcome the aversion to the word God is to change the context of the word, for example choosing to make it an acronym for Good Orderly Direction. AA/NA sponsors can be especially helpful in this exploration.

A Brief Word on Sponsorship

Sponsorship is highly encouraged in both AA and NA. A sponsor is your guide and trusted confidant. A sponsor can help you discover ways to be open and willing to find your God or higher power. Sponsors have sustained a substantial amount of sobriety and are there to support you objectively by sharing their experience, strength and encouragement.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What steps have you taken towards independence in your addiction recovery?

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addiction. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 10th, 2015
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.