Substance use disorders, can be damaging in multiple and complex ways. As a chronic and, frequently, progressive condition, an addiction can cause a person’s physical and mental health to decline. It also can unravel a person’s career and financial wellbeing, land them in legal jeopardy, and ruin their most important relationships.
In the last case, a person’s relationships are a barometer of their wellbeing. When a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they often say or do things that damage their relationships. Even when they are not technically “under the influence,” they are often acting in deleterious ways that affect a spouse or close loved one. Whether they’re secretly doctor shopping to obtain more of a prescription or taking their anger at not being able to get their drug of choice out on their partner, their thoughts and actions are compelled by their drinking or drug use.
Let’s speak plainly. A person addicted to drugs and alcohol has a life that is out of control. Order has turned to chaos, and those close to that individual are very likely going to be caught up in that chaos, too. Whether it’s the chaos of worrying where mortgage money went, strange phone calls, late appearances, slurred speech, mistrust—whatever the case may be, addiction damages relationships, sometimes beyond repair. In some cases, family members actually allow themselves to be caught up in the chaos for longer than they should. They might even enable it.
Active Addiction and Relationships
A person who has an addiction to drugs or alcohol can harm their loved ones without intending to. Many people try to keep their addiction secret in order to protect it and in the hope that they can control it. Unfortunately, keeping something like drug or alcohol abuse secret can damage the trust within relationships; it’s also often impossible to hide the fact that there’s a problem.
A person with a substance use disorder can’t hide the effects of their addiction forever. There will be signs that they can’t control, such as mood swings, fatigue, loss of coordination, or slurred speech. The psychological and physical effects are nearly impossible to keep hidden.
Some family members may look the other way, unsure of how to address the issue. Others may try to intervene, which can cause friction. The truth is, many people don’t understand how to help a loved one who is suffering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol. They may offer all the wrong types of support—like making excuses when their loved one doesn’t show up for a social obligation or offering money when they have some sense of where it could go.
How to Know When Your Substance Use Is Harming a Relationship
If you begin with the premise that substance abuse will harm a relationship, you are well ahead of the crowd. Many people don’t think about their relationships when they abuse drugs or alcohol. In fact, it may be relationships (bad ones) that are among their triggers to use. Stress from work, relationships–anywhere–can be a chief motivation to abuse drugs and alcohol.
Every relationship is different. You may learn that your drug or alcohol use has harmed your relationship when your spouse or another member of your family tells you so. In some cases, you might know that you’ve hurt a spouse before they know: If you’ve used rent money to pay for cocaine; if you’ve forged a prescription to get an opioid at a local pharmacy; if you’ve engaged in unprotected sex while under the influence, you’ve hurt your relationship.
Not every person who uses drugs or alcohol has cheated or forged prescriptions, but engaging in reckless or high-risk behaviors is indicative of substance use disorders. For some, a simple lie–saying you haven’t used when you have–is enough to damage the relationship and hurt loved ones.
Fixing Your Relationships Begins with Fixing Yourself
This isn’t an attempt to guilt anyone suffering from a substance use disorder to stop hurting their loved ones. A person is unlikely to stop hurting them until they can stop hurting themselves with their continued abuse. Something is broken somewhere. It might be an unresolved childhood trauma. It might be a struggle to manage anger. Dysfunction fuels the road to addiction. Treatment doesn’t just address the physical dependence; to be successful, it must address the factors that drove the person to abuse drugs or alcohol in the first place.
Before you can repair your relationship, it’s important to understand that treatment is crucial. Substance use disorders change the chemistry of the brain. One can’t simply turn off the condition. During addiction treatment, individuals can identify their triggers and develop strategies to manage them successfully. Only when they’ve achieved some measure of control again and are able to maintain abstinence can they then begin to work on rebuilding a positive relationship with their spouse or other family members.
Ideally, couples can attend therapy together. Couples or family therapy with an addiction specialist helps both parties better understand addiction and how it affects aspects of their relationship. Codependent behaviors often accompany addiction. Consider the following example. One spouse is irate because the pharmacy won’t refill their prescription a few days or a week early. The other spouse goes to the pharmacy in an attempt to persuade staff to fill the prescription early, making excuses for their loved one’s temper or why they need an early refill.
Why is that codependent? In these situations, one person, the addicted individual, is needy. They need the drug. The other individual needs to be needed. They may or may not realize their partner is demanding an addictive drug. They may or may not be aware that they are enabling negative behavior. However, they do it out of a sense of love, loyalty, or some need they struggle to understand even themself.
In a non-codependent relationship, a spouse would not beg a pharmacist for an early refill. They would tell their loved one they need to enter rehab and that drug use has crossed a line. They have to get help. Of course, we’re making it sound easy. It’s not easy to face up to an irate partner. It’s not easy when you are in the throes of a chaotic situation, your finances are in upheaval, and you don’t know where to turn. A therapist can work with both parties to help them recognize where their relationship has gone off the rails and how to get it back on track.
Addiction Is a Family Disease
A substance use disorder affects the family of the individual who is addicted. Addiction affects family members in different ways. It can leave some family members feeling betrayed and angry. It can leave others anxious and panicky. These days, people are well aware of high overdose rates. Family members are often profoundly fearful for their loved one and their health. In other situations, the chaos of addiction can impact family members for life.
Children who grow up with a parent who is addicted are, themselves, at greater risk for developing an addiction. They’re also at risk of being impacted by the trauma of the addiction–fears for the wellbeing of their family (they may hear parents fighting about where all the money went), fear of a parent’s temper when under the influence, or fear that their parent won’t come home or wake up. All family members can benefit from therapy that helps them cope in the aftermath of addiction. Recovery is absolutely possible for all.
If you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, the best way to protect your family is to get help for your condition. In fact, it’s the only way to protect them. Visit us for an evaluation. We can recommend the ideal course of treatment for you, as well as family therapy. Freedom from drugs and alcohol is possible, starting today.