When you have a close friend or family member fighting addiction, it can feel like they’re fighting you and their other loved ones at the same time. Addiction changes the way people act, controlling their minds and often motivating them to do anything necessary to continue using. This is why rebuilding relationships in recovery is often a huge investment of emotional labor.
And mending broken bonds during and after addiction is more complex than just picking up where you left off. You have to rebuild trust and make sure the relationship is healthy for both sides.
In this piece, we break down the intricacies of trying to keep and rebuild friendships damaged and broken by addiction. We also discuss whether there’s ever a time when it’s best to leave a relationship behind due to addiction.
How Addiction Hurts Relationships
These stories have been told countless times — someone you trusted or thought you knew better than anyone suddenly acts like a completely different person because of addiction.
Maybe it’s your child and you find out they’ve been stealing from you for a long time to finance their drug use. Maybe it’s a spouse who repeatedly lied about “working late” to cover for a drinking problem. Or maybe it’s a close friend who habitually stopped showing up when you needed them, choosing drugs over your friendship.
But what can you do to protect yourself? Should you always try to rebuild damaged relationships? If you’re living with a recovered alcoholic, for example, how do you know when it’s time to leave for your own good?
Is It Possible to Maintain a Healthy Relationship With an Addict?
There’s no easy answer to this question. You want to help the person you love and care for make it through the hard times in their life. But is it worth putting your own mental and emotional wellness at risk?
The answer is yes, but there are some qualifiers. First, you shouldn’t expect the lies, stealing or betrayal to not play a role when you try to rebuild the relationship. Trust is not something that should be taken lightly — if a person has broken your trust, you shouldn’t jump back into a situation where they can take advantage of you again. They need to start earning that privilege again from the ground up.
So, it is possible, but you’ll need to set clear boundaries and expectations.
What Are Boundaries?
Boundaries are parameters you set in a relationship to make sure both parties are accountable for their own emotional well-being. Boundaries can be rules — something you make sure you’re both in agreement about before the start of the rebuilding process.
For example, imagine one of the ways a close friend broke your trust was by stealing from you. One of your boundaries could be that you start by spending time in a neutral location where they don’t have access to your property.
Trying to rebuild relationships in recovery is a process that demands an understanding of the risks involved. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Is This Relationship Going to Enable Them?
Many times, parents will stick with a child going through addiction because they care about them too much to see them suffer more than they already are. While this seems productive and compassionate, it may not be. If they support them financially, for example, there’s a good chance that money will go toward financing their substance use.
It’s important to know the difference between caring for someone and enabling them. A relationship that consists of you supporting their addiction in any way is likely to hurt you even more.
Are They Actively Trying to Grow?
The question of whether you can have a close relationship with an addict often arises when they enter — or talk about entering — treatment.
Rehab can be an important step in rebuilding a broken relationship because it represents wanting to get help and improve. One the of the more rewarding aspects of rebuilding a relationship with someone in recovery is that you can help motivate them to enter a recovery program and stay on track.
Understand That Recovery Is a Challenge
At the same time, it’s important to understand that rehab is only the start of your loved one’s journey. As with any long process, there will likely be setbacks. You shouldn’t expect to remove all boundaries and go back to how things were in the past just because a person has gone through a rehab program.
The fact is, around half of those who get treatment for addiction will relapse. If you’re planning on supporting someone during their recovery, are you prepared for when times aren’t as easy as they seem right now?
While you can hope that every relapse is their last on their road to recovery, it’s hard to fully trust someone. You have to be aware that this is a long-term struggle and make peace with the fact that this is something you (and they) will have to live with for life.
Assessing Whether They’re in the Right Place to Repair a Relationship
The fact is, when a relationship breaks down as a result of addiction, something has to change before it can be rebuilt. This means the other person needs to be in a more constructive place — ideally, getting help for themselves — and prepared to try to make the relationship work.
It can be tempting to re-involve yourself because of the feelings you still have for them, but unless they’ve sought help and are actively maintaining their recovery in a healthy way (attending groups, following a plan), you’re putting yourself at risk of being hurt again.
FHE Health and Rebuilding Relationships
At FHE Health, we involve loved ones in treatment because it’s important for people to understand how their addiction affects those close to them. When a person gets out of a treatment program, they’re going to need their loved ones for support. Our goal is to make sure you can work on rebuilding trust and mending the bridges burned by addiction.
If you or a loved one needs further guidance, contact us today and learn about all the options available to you.