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Overcoming Addiction Issues in a Relationship


Anyone who is, or has been, in a relationship with a person suffering from substance abuse will have first hand experience on just how damaging addiction can be. Aside from the inevitable heartache that goes alongside watching someone you love become dependent on harmful substances, you may also find yourself being affected on a practical level – perhaps your finances as a couple will become saturated due to your partner’s desire to feed their addiction. Maybe you’ll suffer emotionally because of the betrayals, lies and erratic behaviour so common to drug users. Or maybe you own health will suffer due to the stress of seeing your partner’s health and lifestyle deteriorate.

In any case, a study carried out by The Pennsylvania University indicates that drug/drunk addiction is one of the top reasons for divorce in the United States– alongside infidelity and incompatibility. And with figures suggesting that there are over 12 million alcoholics and between 1-2 million cocaine addicts in the United States, these trends look set to continue.

But all is not lost. If you are in a relationship with a substance abuser or drug addict then you may feel totally out of your depth at times but there are things that you can do to help them overcome their problems and get them back on the right track.

Understand addiction

Addiction is a difficult concept to understand because the self-destructive nature of it tends to go against all rational thought and behaviour. There will invariably be times when you want to shake your partner, shout, scream and demand to know why they are being so stupid. But resist the urge to lose your temper and instead focus your efforts on trying to understand addiction. There are several theories (or ‘models’) of addiction used to try and describe what it is and why addicts behave the way they do. One of the most well-known is the ‘disease model’ which seeks to define addiction as an illness caused by a biological abnormality in the brain. Researching these models and trying to build a basic understanding of the nature of addiction can help you understand what your partner is going through, how they feel and why they are behaving the way that they are. Once you understand this you can work out the best ways to support and communicate with them.

Get support

When supporting an addict you need to remember to find support for yourself too. Every now and then you may need to seek outside, impartial advice on your situation or simply get some of your frustrations, concerns and worries off your chest. There is often a stigma surrounding drug addiction that can lead sufferers and those close to them reluctant to speak to their immediate family or friends. If you feel this way then join a support group for the family of substance abusers – they will have a wealth of experience and knowledge when it comes to dealing with your situation.

Speak to them

Making an addict feel able to open up to without fear of judgement or recrimination is very important in recovery. Being able to confront an addict and have them feel able to admit their problems in a no-pressure way is known as an ‘informal intervention’ – in other words an intervention of the addiction cycle carried out within a casual, unplanned conversation. An addict who can admit they have a problem is already passed the ‘denial’ stage and although they may still be reluctant to seek help and take action, their admission is certainly a step in the right direction. To achieve this level of communication you must remain open-minded, calm and supportive. If they feel as though they will just get accusations or anger from you then they will be less likely to open up.

Set boundaries

Conversely, it is imperative to keep your own sanity and wellbeing and not neglect your personal needs solely to help an addict. Even if they recover, the damage that you have suffered at their hands will cause future resentment in the relationship. Therefore explain that there are certain behaviours that you simply cannot tolerate and whilst you are willing to support them in their recovery, you have to also consider your own wellbeing.

Before you explain this, think carefully about just how much you are willing to put up with and consider if you are truly prepared to leave should they cross these boundaries. This is a level of distance that you need to keep in order to help not only the addict in their recovery, but also yourself.

Consider a formal intervention and professional help

If all of your efforts haven’t worked and your partner is showing no signs of admitting their problem or taking any meaningful action in order to improve their life then it could be time to consider a formal intervention. Whilst an informal intervention is more of a non-organised conversation, a formal intervention should be a planned confrontation in which you, and possibly other family members, friends or professionals, try to convince the addict that they have to change their actions and comply with you in order to recover. This is more of a high pressure strategy and should not be your first reaction – more of a way to proceed when other methods of communicating with them have failed. There are trained professionals and agencies who can advise you with how best to proceed with a formal intervention and the techniques to use in order to try and gain some willingness from an addict in a firm yet supportive way.

This may involve convincing the addict to spend some time in a rehabilitation centre or undertaking a step-by-step program in order to beat their addiction. It can only be done when they are willing to surrender their addiction and is a choice entirely personal to them. But a formal intervention could be the push they need to start this.