Drug addiction affects all areas of life, including relationships. Addiction makes it hard to maintain trust, respect and open communication – critical elements in a healthy relationship. When a person is addicted to a substance, they revolve their life around obtaining and using the drug. This may lead to neglecting responsibilities or the needs of their significant other. As a result, their partner will feel hurt, angry and betrayed. Drug addiction can have devastating effects on relationships in many different ways.
If you’re in a relationship with an addicted person or struggle with addiction yourself, know that help is available to you. Addiction is a treatable disease. With time and effort, you and your partner, or anyone affected by the addiction, can repair the damage and move towards recovery together. In this post, we’ll explore the complexity of addiction, its effect on relationships, and how you and your loved ones can heal.
Drug Addiction and Codependency
Although not always the case, codependency is commonly a part of a relationship with an addicted person. This is because the lives of family members often revolve around the addiction. As a result, family members try to help their loved one in the wrong ways, and eventually, they gain a sense of satisfaction from being needed by the addicted person.
For example, a wife might mean well by giving her husband money for drugs to prevent withdrawal symptoms, or to keep him from obtaining it illegally, but she is enabling his addiction and may be preventing him from getting help. Codependency can be damaging to both the addicted person and their loved one.
Codependent people need to feel needed by the addicted person, so they engage in enabling behaviors. Individuals who become codependent tend to show some of the following signs:
- Low self-esteem
- Fear of abandonment
- Difficulty saying, “No”
- Feel responsible for a loved one’s thoughts and feelings
- May feel rejected if a person doesn’t accept their help
- May confuse love with pity and enter relationships with others they wish to rescue
- Will do anything to hold onto a relationship to avoid the pain of abandonment
- Feel guilty asserting themselves
- Tend to feel hurt if others don’t appreciate their efforts
- Need approval from others
- Tend to do more than their share in the relationship
Overall, codependent people are afraid their relationship with the addicted individual will end, so they will go out of their way to accommodate their partner, even if means sacrificing their own needs or enabling addictive behavior. They often fill the role of caretaker, sometimes to the point where they stop taking care of themselves.
Enabling Drug Abuse in Relationships
Codendepent people often engage in enabling behaviors. Enabling behavior directly or indirectly encourages, or simply makes it possible for a person to continue using drugs. Sometimes, a person does not realize they are an enabler, or they might deny they are codependent and helping a loved one maintain their addiction. Addiction is not easy for anyone to handle. However, realizing you or a loved one is codependent is the first step to getting help and repairing relationships. Examples of enabling behaviors include:
- Denying a loved one has a problem
- Using drugs with the addicted loved one so they don’t use alone
- Making excuses for drug use, such as saying a loved one has a stressful job
- Avoiding problems to keep the peace
- Avoiding feelings and self-medicating
- Taking over the addicted loved one’s responsibilities
- Feeling superior to the addicted person and treating them like a child
- Controlling the addicted person any way they can
- Enduring the addiction and thinking things will get better on their own
Intimacy and Substance Abuse
Other relationship concerns involving addiction deal with sexuality and intimacy. Drug addiction can make it difficult to experience intimacy in a relationship. Addiction, in itself, is an isolating disease. People who battle addiction also struggle to enjoy healthy intimate relationships. They focus on using substances not to engage with loved ones, but to escape painful emotions.
Many times, addicted people have intimacy issues before developing an addiction. They may have experienced isolating events early in their life, such as childhood abuse, or onset of depression, which can make a person feel guilty and alone. This leads to a struggle with closeness and understanding with their partner. They may have started to self-medicate at a young age, making the problem worse.
Some people engage in non-intimate sexual behaviors and use drugs simultaneously. This could make a partner feel emotionally neglected. Someone might use cocaine, for example, to engage in sexual activity for hours, while another might feel bad about using sex to self-medicate and take drugs to escape the guilt. Sometimes an addicted person gets so used to relying on drugs to enjoy sex that they feel they can’t enjoy it without getting high first.
Erectile dysfunction resulting from drug use has a major impact on a male’s quality of life. According to a study from the Journal of Urology, men with erectile dysfunction report greater depression and anxiety. A person might also dangerously mix erectile dysfunction medication with other drugs. For example, a study from 2011 found that the majority of those who recreationally used erectile dysfunction medication mixed the medicine with illicit drugs.
Trust Lost From Drug Addiction
Trust is an essential element in a healthy relationship. Drug addiction often leads to lost trust. It’s not uncommon for an addicted individual to engage in secretive behavior and lie about drug use. They might lie about who they were with or what they did that day. They might steal money from a family member to buy substances.
Lying, stealing and general dishonesty can make both partners feel a widening gap between them. Lying to a loved one makes them feel hurt, uncared for and disrespected. Family members and significant others may not understand that cravings are often more powerful than the need to be honest.
Nevertheless, when a loved one can’t trust an addicted person, they’ll feel like they can’t rely on them or get close to them. A lack of trust can lead to anger, resentment, jealousy and fear. Trust takes time to rebuild once it’s been broken, but it’s not impossible.
Violence and Abuse
Drug addiction affects a person’s mental health, which can affect how they treat a loved one when conflict arises. Drug addiction in general also can make a person irritable. Some drugs, like cocaine and methamphetamine, lead to changes in the brain that cause mental health issues such as paranoia, anxiety and depression. Some of the signs of opioid use include poor decision-making, irritability and mood swings. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people who are addicted to drugs are more than twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders when compared to the general public.
That’s not to say that everyone who uses drugs will act violently towards a loved one. However, there is a correlation between addiction and violence, and it goes both ways. For example, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), substance abuse has been found to co-occur in 40 to 60 percent of intimate partner violence (IPV) incidents.
Another study, from 2011, found that opioid-dependent fathers reported more incidents of physical, sexual and psychological aggression towards the mother of their child throughout their relationship. They also reported greater physical and sexual aggression directed at them by the mother during the relationship.
Abuse doesn’t necessarily have to be physical. IPV may also include name-calling or threatening, insulting or humiliating a partner. For example, an addicted person may threaten a partner into giving them money for their addiction or act out in anger if their needs are not met.
Steps to Take for a Relationship
If you, a loved one, or both of you struggle with addiction, there is hope. Even though addiction has devastating effects on a relationship, you can still repair the relationship, rebuild trust and heal as a couple. It takes time to repair the damage caused by lies, anger and hurt feelings. The first step is to realize there is a problem. Next, each member of the relationship must be ready to seek help and work on themselves to be healthy as an individual.
Recovery usually begins when the addicted person joins an addiction treatment program that offers counseling services. The other person in the relationship may benefit from individual counseling as well to help them heal and address codependency issues. Family therapy can help family members rebuild trust and learn healthy and effective ways to support an addicted loved one without engaging in enabling behaviors.