Knowing someone with a substance abuse problem or addiction is common, considering how approximately 21 million Americans have been addicted to a substance at least once. Out of these individuals, only 10% get professional treatment.
Living with a substance abuser can be challenging — and even more so when addicts do not seek professional help. Addictive behaviors stain a healthy relationship and tarnish the view of what love should be.
While it’s not always easy to see things from their perspective, it remains important to understand that addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease. An addict compulsively seeks alcohol or drug use despite their harmful consequences.
This article explores the relationship with an addict, the dynamic between a sober individual and an addicted person. Understanding what it is like to be in a relationship with an addict is crucial to deciding whether to stay or walk away. Here’s a closer look at what you need to know.
How Drug Abuse Affects Relationships With Family Members
According to a 2017 survey, 46% of the public says that a family member or close friend is or has been involved in drug abuse. Families with a member who has an addiction problem or other mental health issues may be at risk of developing negative impacts, such as strained relationships and financial hardships.
Conversely, a disrupted family relationship and money problems can contribute to drug or alcohol abuse. Likewise, addiction and mental health disorders can co-occur, which further complicates things. In a dual-diagnosis situation, addiction treatment programs and professional treatment for mental health disorders will be necessary.
Family members play a critical role in helping their addicted loved one with their SUD recovery. However, families have unique dynamics and will approach addiction differently, if at all. Some families try to avoid dealing with addiction, while others become overly involved in their lives.
Moreover, different members respond to the condition in their ways, considering that they have their own life that the addiction affects. Generally, their inability to maintain a healthy relationship may turn them into codependent people.
Here’s an overview of how different family members might approach their relationship with an addict.
A Parent’s Relationship With an Addict
For a parent with a child who has an active addiction or active recovery from addiction, the relationship will likely be strained. A healthy relationship between parent and child is based on love, trust, and respect.
However, drugs or alcohol can damage the relationship when the substances get involved. Parents might notice that their child is a completely different person who lies, steals, and behaves erratically. Experiencing their child’s addict behavior would trigger feelings of worry and guilt.
Parents might blame themselves and feel responsible for their child’s choice to go down this path of addiction. Feeling guilty, they may resort to enabling behaviors, such as giving them money or bailing them out of jail, hoping that their addicted children will turn their lives around.
In these cases, addicted children will likely get used to their loved ones taking care of them and will rely on them for help and support. The cycle of addiction feeds off of these enabling behaviors, and it becomes difficult to break free.
A Sibling’s Relationship With an Addict
Addiction in the family also affects the drug addict’s siblings, who often become the overlooked victims in the family’s situation. Their relationship with an addict in the family can be very confusing and difficult to navigate.
On one hand, they could be very close to their addicted brother or sister and want to help them get better. On the other hand, they may feel shame and the urge to distance themselves from the addict to protect themselves out of fear of what their addicted sibling might do.
Experts associate drug and alcohol addiction with violent behavior. An alcohol or drug addict may express anger in unhealthy ways that scare their siblings. In some cases, the addict might also try to involve their siblings in their substance use.
Some siblings may be strong enough to stay sober and reject the path of addiction, so they don’t end up in the same way as their addicted brother or sister. However, younger siblings might notice the extra attention and special treatment that their parents give to the family addict.
As parents fail to attend to their other children’s needs, siblings would follow in their addicted sibling’s footsteps and begin abusing substances as well. They would continue down this path hoping to get the attention that their addicted brother or sister gets.
A Child’s Relationship With an Addict
According to a 2017 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report, active addiction cases directly affect approximately 16.2 million children. Around 8.7 million — or one in eight children — live with at least one parent with a substance use disorder. Meanwhile, 7.5 million, or one in ten children have at least one parent with an alcohol use disorder.
Depending on a child’s family situation, they could live with one or two addicts. These situations can further complicate if the child is in a solo or two-parent household. In the former case, the child would suffer from neglect as the parent with an addiction cannot support their own needs. Thus, role reversal comes into the picture, and the child cannot properly meet their physical, mental, and emotional needs.
Having two addicts as parents can be equally tough on the kids in the family. If the child is alone, they would suffer a similar kind of neglect as a child of a solo parent with an addiction. At least if they have siblings, they would have each other to look out for. Regardless, they would have no parental figure to turn to, which could breed emotional pain.
Meanwhile, if only one parent suffers from substance abuse in a two-parent household, the kids involved will have the other parent to turn to for support and guidance. Though it might not be as heavy as other cases, it can still be confusing and difficult for the children. It’s a challenging thing to have an addicted parent.
How Drug Addiction Affects Romantic Relationships
Having an addicted partner can be just as tough, if not tougher than living with a drug addict or alcohol abuser in one’s immediate family. In a sense, our lovers are chosen family, so we would expect a different kind of support from each other. However, addicted individuals will likely display the same effects in romantic relationships as they do with their family and friends.
Recalling how parents develop codependency with an addicted child, lovers and spouses can also become codependent individuals. Codependency is an unhealthy relationship dynamic where one person relies on the other for their own happiness and well-being. A codependent person would look to their partner for guidance in every aspect of their life. They would also be the ones to make most, if not all, decisions in the relationship.
This lack of individuality may lead to controlling behaviors. The sober person in the relationship would want to keep their partner away from drugs and alcohol at all costs. However, that behavior could enable the addict’s substance or drug use. Instead of having the best interests of the addict’s life at heart, their tolerance to the addiction could make the problem worse. It would be a never-ending cycle of pain, abuse, and dependence.
As much as we want to help our addicted loved ones, we must remember that only they can save themselves. It might be difficult to see them spiral out of control and not be able to do anything about it. However, if we want to maintain a healthy relationship with them, we have to set healthy boundaries.
A Lover’s Relationship With an Addict
People in a romantic relationship with an addict — whether as a boyfriend or girlfriend — may experience abuse on a consistent basis. However, the sober individual will delude themselves with memories of how their lover behaved before drug addiction. Thus, they often develop what is known as a trauma bond.
A trauma bond is an emotional attachment that forms between two people where one person constantly hurts the other, and the victim starts to rationalize the abuse. It’s common for an individual in an abusive relationship to want to stay with their abuser because they remember the good times and believe that they can bring back that life.
One of the most challenging things about having a lover in an active substance abuse situation is staying calm. Remembering that the alcohol or drug addict has a disease may help put things in perspective and make it easier to approach important subjects carefully. In particular, lovers need to express how their partner’s drinking or drug use is affecting them.
Sometimes, when an addict’s case becomes too much for the sober girlfriend or boyfriend to bear, they may approach their lover’s loved ones to decide on what they can do. Together, they could share their experiences with how the addict has been acting lately and then look into treatment options.
A Spouse’s Relationship With an Addict
Having a partner with an active addiction problem may lead to domestic violence cases. Domestic violence takes several forms, including physical violence, guilt-tripping, and becoming overly controlling. Note that approximately 80% of crimes involving domestic violence are related to drug abuse because of how the substances alter a person’s brain chemicals. Thus, the addict could have impaired judgment causing them to behave that way to their partner.
Sometimes, a spouse living with an abusive addict will turn to substance abuse themselves. According to an applied research paper exploring the relationship between intimate partner violence (IPV) and substance use, many studies have found that women who have experienced IPV are more likely to use or become dependent on substances than women who have not experienced IPV. Without professional treatment, the relationship may end up with two addicts.
Daily life for a married couple with an addicted member can be full of conflict. They could experience money problems when the addict funds their drug or drinking problem, there are legal conflicts over the addict’s DUI, and there is a fear that the addiction will never end. Moreover, the addict may blame their behavior on something else, manipulating their spouse and creating distrust.
The sober spouse needs to remember that they are not responsible for their partner’s addiction disease. They must support their addicted spouse without enabling their behavior, which is understandably challenging. Addicts must be willing to seek help and go through treatment before the relationship can make any real progress.
How Substance Abuse Affects Social Relationships
Addiction can affect a person’s social relationships outside of their immediate relatives and loved ones. In particular, an addict’s close friends, acquaintances, and coworkers may suffer from the addict’s disease.
Social dynamics can change when someone becomes addicted to substances. For example, the addict could start spending more time with people who use drugs or alcohol. They would ditch old friends who don’t use substances, or they can start lying to their friends about their whereabouts. The addict can become more aggressive and irritable, pushing away the people they care about.
An addict’s job performance is also likely to suffer, which can lead to relationship problems with their boss or coworkers. The addict would start coming in late, taking long breaks, or calling in sick more often. In some cases, the addict can even steal from their workplace to fund their addiction.
Concerned individuals who have no direct relationship with an addict can find it confusing to navigate despite having good intentions. Although they want to help somehow, they might not know where they fit in or what they can do. They must consider the set boundaries before proceeding.
A Friend’s Relationship With an Addict
Friendship with addicts can involve different situations. For example, the friendship already existed in the first place — perhaps they were childhood friends or classmates. The addiction only came later. Another instance is when people become friends while an individual is already an addict. Regardless of how the friendship started, the addiction can put a strain on the relationship.
Suppose there is a friend group with two addicts and one sober person. The sober person might feel left out because they cannot participate in certain activities with their friends, such as smoking weed or going to a bar. They could also feel like they have to take care of their addict friends, which is a lot of responsibility. The sober person might set boundaries and distance themselves from the addict friends to take care of their mental health.
Meanwhile, they might feel pressure and start drinking more or using drugs to fit in with their addict friends. They know that addiction is a disease and that addicts are not bad people. Thus, they end up spending money to maintain an unhealthy relationship with addicts because they have no other friends.
Other situations involve friends knowing that a person is an addict and feeling conflicted about whether they should approach a loved one about it. In these cases, the sober friend risks losing their friendship with the addict. The addict could turn on the friend who told on them, believing that their relationship was a sham from the beginning. The sober friend would have to decide whether they want to confront their friend or let them go.
A Community’s Relationship With an Addict
There is a stigma surrounding addiction and addicts, which often leads to a negative relationship between the addict and their community. The community might see addicts as lower-class citizens who are a drain on resources.
According to a 2019 Recovery Centers of America resource, the annual economic cost of substance use disorder in the United States is approximately $3.73 trillion. This figure includes productivity loss, health expenses, criminal fees, public property damage, deaths, and further research for prevention.
Communities could also avoid addicts, believing them to be dangerous individuals. These people may fail to realize that addiction is a disease that requires treatment, not punishment. Addicts are not bad people; they are sick people. The community should be supporting addicts instead of stigmatizing them.
However, like the case with friends who might not be close to the addict in the first place, it can be challenging for a community to come together for someone they do not know. Still, there are many ways the community can help addicts. For example, they can donate to organizations that help addicts get treatment. They can also form support groups to listen to addicts and help them feel heard.
An Addict’s Relationship With Their Physical and Mental Health
Addicts also struggle in their relationship with themselves. As sick people, their physical and mental states suffer the consequences of their addiction. For example, alcohol dependence alone can affect the brain, heart, liver, and pancreas. It can also weaken the immune system and boost the chances of developing cancer.
As addiction affects the brain, an addict’s self-esteem and decision-making skills can start to decline. They might not feel worthy of recovery, have trouble thinking straight, or struggle to remember things. Depending on the drugs they use, they can even experience hallucinations and suffer more debilitating health consequences.
Active addiction cases can quickly become life-threatening. The way substances provide temporary relief from the painful side effects of an addict’s drinking or substance abuse would push them to keep on consuming liquor and taking drugs. As such, overdose becomes a constant risk, no matter the drug.
Addicts may also fail to realize that they are ruining their different relationships. Perhaps the damage that the drugs have done to the brain makes the pangs of guilt and shame feel less intense. Maybe the addict convinced themselves that their addiction is not that bad, or that they can stop anytime. They do not consider recovery because they believe they have no problem.
It may take a dedicated partner or loved one to confront the addict about their relationship with drugs. The addict might be in denial and not realize that they need help. It’s hard to see ourselves objectively when we are in the middle of an addiction. These insights into the feelings of an addict may help others extend empathy to repair their relationships.
How To Build a Healthy Relationship With an Addict
As a partner or loved one of an addict, it is normal to want the best life for them. However, the addict might not be as responsive or enthusiastic as them because they believe they are happy and healthy as they are.
Any attempt at improving their life away from drugs and drinking would trigger their defense mechanisms. The addict would feel that their so-called “loved one” is threatening their comfort and security in “harmless” substance use. Here are some steps a partner or loved one can follow to help an addict pursue treatment:
Establish a Relationship Built on Trust:
Setting up an environment that allows open communication is the first step in helping an addict. It will take time, patience, and effort to establish this trust — like in any relationship. Addicts might be more open to talking about their addiction if they feel comfortable and safe. After all, feeling judged or lectured can be uncomfortable for anyone.
Get Professionals To Help Arrange Treatment:
With open lines of communication in place, the addict’s loved one or partner can seek help from addiction recovery experts to help stage an intervention. Professionals will be necessary for helping the addict realize how their addiction is affecting not just themselves but also the people around them. Professionals will also know what kind of treatment will best suit the addict.
Support Their Treatment:
Addicts will need all the love they can get during treatment. Their partner or concerned loved one can help by being understanding and patient as the addict undergoes therapy if the professional determines that they need that treatment method.
What Is the Role of Loved Ones in Addiction Treatment Programs?
Sober people in the life of an addict play important roles in their recovery, from staging an intervention to supporting the appropriate treatment method. Regardless of one’s relationship with an addict, these supporters ensure that the addict gets the help they need to recover.
Take an intervention for instance. A concerned loved one will need to seek expert help to stage a successful one. An intervention is successful when the addict agrees to undergo recovery procedures. This loved one can assemble other people in the addict’s life to join the intervention to boost chances of success.
Together, they can help the addict understand how their behavior negatively affected their multiple relationships. An addict might be understandably upset and feel betrayed when they see how people from different facets of their life come together. That explains why a professional is necessary to steer the event in the right direction.
Once the addict chooses recovery, loved ones in the addict’s life will need to continue supporting and cheering them on during treatment. Some treatments may require an addict to relocate to a facility for proper monitoring. They would still benefit from a loved one coming in to visit from time to time.
Other treatment methods involve therapy and medication. In such cases, a loved one can get involved by ensuring that the addict attends scheduled treatment sessions and does not miss a dose or take more than their prescribed medication.
Turning Point of Tampa – Local Resources To Seek Recovery for a Loved One With Addiction
Anyone concerned over a loved one’s addiction to any substance can immediately reach out to Turning Point of Tampa. We offer addiction treatment programs to adults and have helped thousands overcome drug addiction.
Part of developing a healthy relationship with family members who are suffering and in their own enabling behaviors is including them to help the whole family heal. Recognizing the addict’s behavior and resolving emotional pain caused by drug use is important.
Addiction Treatment Programs for Civilians and Veterans at Turning Point
Located in Tampa, Florida, the professional treatment at Turning Point has helped those with drug addiction and other mental health issues since the late 80’s.
We are an in-network facility with most insurance companies and treat substance abuse, alcohol and drug abuse as well as co-occurring disorders and eating disorders.
If you are concerned that you have a relationship with an addict that needs help, or you are the drug addict seeking treatment – reach out to Turning Point today. Our individual approach to living in recovery will address the different aspects of the addict’s life, such as relationship status, job, and living situation. With this information, we can better recommend the level of care and the treatment options needed to address your addiction problem or help your loved one find recovery.
Final Words: An Addict’s Relationships Are the Keys to Their Recovery
Addiction is a harmful ailment that not only affects the addict but also the people around them. Parents, siblings, romantic partners, close friends, colleagues, and even society as a whole suffer the consequences of an addict’s destructive behavior. However, they are also the same people who can help with an addict’s recovery.
People in any relationship with an addict can start helping by understanding that they are sick. As you want the best for your loved one with an addiction, you should also want the best kind of treatment. The next step would be to ensure that the addict undergoes the recommended recovery program by being supportive and patient.
In the end, an addict’s relationship with other people is a crucial part of their recovery journey. Although people may not like what an addict has become, they can still love them nonetheless. Be sure to seek help from a licensed recovery center like Turning Point of Tampa to determine your options.