Directly addressing addiction in our closest relationships can often seem overwhelming. But if you are in a close relationship with someone struggling with alcoholics or drug addiction, you should know that you are not alone.
In fact, both alcoholism and drug addiction are extremely prevalent within the United States. Over 23 million people need treatment for alcohol or drug abuse. That is almost ten percent of the entire American population. But here’s an even more staggering statistic: only around ten percent of those who need addiction treatment actually receive it.
Overcoming the Stigma of Addiction and Addressing Addiction in Your Relationships
This is where you can make a difference – by addressing addiction in your closest relationships. If you know and love someone currently abusing alcohol or drugs, you can take steps to get help for them and for yourself.
There is a choice in addressing addiction in your closest relationships. Alcoholism and drug addiction can break these relationships apart if they go unaddressed. Addiction in families causes distrust and disunity. But in contrast, you can choose to address these issues before it is too late.
There is no question that alcohol and drug addiction can be catastrophic for close relationships. Marriages, dating relationships, and families can be pulled apart if the issues associated with alcoholism and addiction go unaddressed. This is why it is so important to overcome the stigma of addiction and call out the effects of addiction within your closest relationships.
At the same time, you should recognize that you cannot do this on your own. It is not up to you to saved your loved one. But you can help. Thankfully, there are resources for addressing addiction within families and close relationships.
The First Step: Understanding Addiction as a Mental Disorder
The very first thing to realize is that addiction is not the result of a character flaw or moral weakness. Time after time, research has shown that addiction is actually a mental disorder. Alcoholism and drug addiction are mental diseases that profoundly impact a person’s ability to make good decisions and act normally.
“Because of drug use, a person’s brain is no longer able to produce something needed for our functioning and that healthy people take for granted: free will.”
~ Dr. Nora Volkow
In other words, someone who has become dependent on the effects of alcohol or other drugs has actually lost their ability to voluntarily quit using the substance. Thankfully, this does not mean that they can’t recover from addiction. It just means that they will need help as they learn to live without alcohol or drugs. This can be a long process. But the recovery process has been shown to work, and it is absolutely worth it for the ones you love.
With this in mind, any conversation you have with your loved one about addiction should avoid accusation. This is particularly important in the beginning stages, as you encourage your significant other to seek out professional treatment for their drug or alcohol use.
Ultimately, your goal should be to see a better future for your family member or significant other. This typically requires attending drug or alcohol rehab, so you should do everything you can to start them on this road to recovery.
Understanding the Damaging Effect of Addiction on Relationships
A healthy relationship is defined by the hallmarks of honesty, compromise, trust, intimacy and a healthy dose of independence. Addiction among close relationships can turn a healthy relationship on its head.
If addiction goes unaddressed, it can destroy the trust and intimacy that take years to build up. Addiction damages close relationships in a number of ways:
- Someone struggling with addiction is unable to deal with other stressors or disagreements in a healthy way.
- Families of someone struggling with addiction can lose trust quickly.
- A loss of intimacy because of the addiction can turn into a loss of healthy communication.
In reality, unaddressed addiction within a marriage or intimate relationship is the opposite of a healthy relationship. With addiction comes secrets, a lack of trust, and a loss of intimacy. In the long run, alcoholism and addiction can even lead to anger and abuse in these relationships.
Addiction can also cause issues of codependency and enabling relationships. While these traits are not as obvious as anger or abuse, they can be just as damaging if they go unaddressed.
Thankfully, these damaging effects of addiction on relationships do not have to go unaddressed. Effective treatment programs work with individuals not only on their addiction, but also on the impact it has had on their closest relationships.
Understanding the Underlying Causes of Addiction For Your Significant Other
Another way to help your spouse or significant other through addiction treatment is to understand that most substance use disorders have an underlying cause. While many substances are inherently addictive, full-blown addiction does not typically take root unless there are other issues at play.
These include stress at work, dissatisfaction in relationships, past abuse or trauma, or a family history of substance abuse.
“The underlying issues that drive addiction are the same for both genders – addictive substances are used as a way to feel a sense of control over life stressors, emotional discomfort, and the ongoing emotional pain of unresolved depression, anxiety disorders, trauma, abuse, and the like.”
~ Robert Weiss, LCSW writing for Psychology Today
These underlying issues do not excuse addiction in your spouse or boyfriend. But they should help you recognize just how difficult addiction is to deal with. Very often, addiction comes with other mental issues that need addressed in effective treatment.
Knowing What to Look For: Warning Signs of Addiction in Your Close Relationships
Alcoholics and drug addicts can be very good at hiding their addiction. They may only partake in the substance alone, keeping it a secret from everyone around them. But that does not mean that drug addiction and alcoholism does not have an effect on their closest relationships.
There are several clear signs of alcoholism or drug addiction in your marriage or close relationship. No matter how good someone is at hiding their substance abuse, over time they are almost certain to show several of these behavioral signs of addiction:
- Taking or stealing money to pay for more drugs or alcohol.
- Leaving empty alcohol bottles or drugs around the house.
- Spending more time than usual out of the house and with ‘friends.’
- Continually breaking promises about drinking habits or drug use.
- Showing signs of dangerous behavior, like driving drug or under the influence of drugs.
- Neglecting responsibilities at home because of drug or alcohol use.
- Experiencing problems at work, or being fired, after a sustained amount of time drinking or abusing drugs.
- Showing signs of health problems – such as sleep problems.
- Exhibiting signs of alcohol or drug withdrawal after going several hours without the substance.
- Being unable to stop drinking or using drugs even after you ask them to.
Not everyone struggling with alcoholism or addiction will show all of these signs. But if you see any of these warning signs, it may be time for a conversation with your boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse or family member about addiction treatment.
Are you still unsure whether or not your friend or family member is addicted? You can take an addiction quiz to help you determine which of the signs of addiction your loved one has shown.
Understanding the Available Addiction Treatment Options For Your Loved One
While all of this information should help you know how to address addiction within your close relationships, you should know that it is not up to you to treat the addiction in your loved one.
Instead, there are professional addiction treatment options available to you and your family. These include:
- Intensive Outpatient Treatment: Outpatient treatment allows those struggling with substance abuse to get counseling and treatment while keeping up on their responsibilities at home and at work.
- Inpatient Rehab: Inpatient rehab is sometimes necessary for those who have tried addiction treatment before or who have struggled with addiction for many years.
- Community Support Groups: Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous offer continued help after a more formal treatment program.
- Support Groups for Families of Addicts: Groups like Nar-Anon and Al-Anon provide a safe and supportive environment for the loved ones of addicts to process their struggles and successes.
You can be a support to your loved one by encouraging them to get the help that they need. You can also seek out support for yourself, with the reminder that you are not in this alone.
The Bottom Line: You Can Support Your Loved One in Getting Professional Help For Addiction
If you take anything away from this, it should be that you do not have to feel helpless in the face of addiction in your closest relationships. Instead, you should rely on the hope offered by professional treatment services and the challenge to be a support during the recovery process.
To help you through this difficult process, give yourself these three reminders on a daily basis:
Give it a chance: Addiction recovery takes time – sobriety doesn’t come overnight. Be patient, as the results of drug and alcohol rehab are absolutely worth it.
Give yourself grace: It can sometimes feel impossible to deal with someone struggling with addiction. In these moments, remind yourself that it is not your responsibility to save a person. You can also seek out a support group to process these feelings.
Give your loved one grace: Addiction is a powerful mental disease that takes a huge amount of effort to overcome. Relapse is a normal part of the recovery process. Don’t give up on your loved one as long as they are trying to overcome their substance abuse.
With patience and the right tools, you can support your loved one from the initial stage of drug or alcohol detox through to when you can move on to a sober and happier life together.
If you still have questions about what it means to address addiction among your closest relationships, you can speak confidentially with an addiction expert. We are here to address any and all of your questions.