“The sober mate knows the addict’s life is at risk. The worry, fear, and obsession over their partner may become chronic. Nights are spent worrying if the addict will come home, and hours and sometimes days are spent waiting for a phone call. This becomes the norm” (“I am in love with an addict: Why do I stay?” by Amanda Andruzzi).
Did you know that millions of Americans battle substance abuse every year? According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 and older reported using an illicit drug over the past month during a 2013 survey. Have you ever wondered how the partners and spouses of all those people dealt with the situation? How did it affect them?
We’ve all heard a lot about drug addiction. We know how serious it is. We understand some of the terrible ways that it affects the addict’s health and life. Most of the attention is paid to the person with the addiction and the vital struggle of rehabilitation. But what about the people who love the addict? They’re often forgotten about, aren’t they? They have to watch people they love suffer and possibly even bring themselves to the edge of death. It could be argued that their suffering is almost as great. They often feel powerless to help and don’t know what to do.
In this article, we will talk about the situation of being the romantic partner or spouse (we’ll just use the word “partner” alone for the sake of simplicity) of a drug addict. Partners are often the ones who bear the brunt of being around addiction on a daily basis. After all, they live with an addict. It’s someone they love, but it’s still an addict. Partners see the terrible effects of addiction all the time, possibly many times each day. These effects become so close to them that they might feel like they are experiencing them as much as the addict, or even more so in some ways. After all, they tend to be the ones who keep daily life going, clean up messes, and pick up the pieces when things fall apart.
How Does Drug Addiction Affect Your Relationship?
Drug addiction affects relationships in a multiplicity of ways. If you’re in a relationship with a drug addict, you almost certainly already know this.
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, being in a relationship with someone who uses drugs or alcohol excessively on a chronic basis often causes more unhappiness than you would experience in a relationship with other kinds of problems. Here are some of the ways in which drug addiction can affect your relationship. As you read these, pay close attention and see if you recognize any of them:
- Your partner’s drug use is directly causing an emotional distance between you and him or her. This distance is a profound type that is extremely challenging to overcome.
- You and your partner are fighting more as a result of their addiction. These kinds of fights might possibly become violent.
- The fighting about the drug use that you and are your partner is experiencing is leading your partner to increase his or her drug intake in a misguided effort to reduce the stress.
- If the drug abuse has become the primary reason for the arguing and conflict, a vicious cycle may arise in which the drug abuser increases his or her intake in order to reduce the stress and then the increased substance abuse causes more conflict. This sort of downward spiral is extremely difficult to resolve. Professional help is required.
- There are arguments about drugs or issues related to drug use, including, for example, not taking any responsibility in the home, staying out too late, and financial problems.
- You find yourself feeling compelled to “cover” for your partner when their drug use is leading to them not fulfilling their responsibilities. An example might be telling their boss that your partner is “sick” when they cannot come into work as a result of their drug abuse.
- There has been domestic violence or perhaps “angry touching” committed by your partner who is addicted to drugs.
- Using drugs is one of the only things you and your partner enjoy doing together.
- Your partner’s drug addiction has led to isolation from family and friends.
Your relationship might not show every one of these signs of danger. However, even one of them could mean that it is time to think about getting help. There are options available at Aspen Ridge North that you’ll want to explore and that we’ll discuss later in this article.
What are Healthy Boundaries and Why Do You Need Them?
You probably already have a strong sense that your addicted partner doesn’t have strong boundaries. Unfortunately, this can lead to you losing your boundaries, as well. You might even find that you’ve lost your identity. Healthy boundaries between individuals are essential to any kind of relationship. Sadly, they are notoriously difficult to maintain when one member of a relationship or family has an addiction.
Do you understand why boundaries are important for functional relationships? Here are a few of the reasons:
1. Boundaries allow us to have a healthy sense of responsibility.
Each member of a relationship understands that he or she has his or her own personal responsibilities and that they must play their part in making the relationship a healthy one. As you can imagine, this sense of responsibility is incompatible with the sense of abandon often seen in drug addicts.
2. Boundaries are needed for appropriate communication.
In a healthy relationship with strong boundaries, each member is able to speak and be heard equally. Strong communication helps to create a better sense of cohesion and security.
3. Boundaries make you better able to discern the good from the bad.
When healthy boundaries are in place, functional behavior such as care, kindness, and respect can pass through them to help further cement the relationship. The same boundary, though, is able to shield you from the unkindness and disrespect that might come from a drug addict.
So, now that you understand boundaries and why they’re important, what do you think of the ones that exist in your relationship? Are there strong boundaries? Or are there weak ones, as there so often are in situations where someone is an addict?
You’re probably wondering what to do to improve boundaries. Here are some steps that you can take:
1. Tell the truth.
You might be shocked by just how far dishonesty has gone in your relationship. There’s a strong chance that denial and distortion are constantly used by your drug-addict partner. Your partner probably minimizes the problem of their addiction, denying that they need help. You must be strong and refuse to go along with the lies. Confront your partner with the truth and make them understand that nothing they can say or do will make you believe any differently.
2. Create a stronger connection.
Spend more time gaining a better connection with your partner and tuning into their feelings. This will take a lot of effort, especially if you and your partner have been in conflict for a long period of time. Make a point of spending quality time with your partner and show interest in him or her. Remember that human beings are constantly growing and changing. Make sure you still know your partner. The efforts you’ll make in this will strengthen your bond.
3. Support healthy emotional expression.
One of the problems in relationships with poor boundaries is that emotional expression often swings between the extremes of absence of expression and hurtful, loud aggressive behavior. It’s easy to guess that neither of these extremes is a good one. To make your relationship healthier, foster healthy expression of feelings. Respond to the feelings that your partner expresses in an open and healthy way.
4. Encourage better self-esteem.
Try to build your partner up and improve their self-esteem. This will help him feel better about himself and more secure to express how he feels to you in an appropriate way. Also let him know that you need him to build you up, too. This mutual effort will create a loving sense of teamwork in making one another happy. Set up times during which you and partner will exchange compliments and expressions of gratitude.
5. Resolve conflict in a timely fashion.
Never let the conflict go without being resolved. This is important as not arriving at some kind of resolution is likely to build into increasingly negative emotions and a sense of distance that will make communication difficult. If you find that you have been responsible for part of a conflict, don’t hesitate to admit to that. If you don’t take responsibility for things that you’ve done, how can you expect your partner to do so?
One of the most important reasons why you need to work on boundaries in your relationship is because weak boundaries make enabling of drug addiction much more likely. Enabling is something that you want to completely avoid.
What is Enabling?
Poor boundaries can quickly lead to enabling. It’s essential not only to the ultimate recovery of your partner but also your own personal well-being that you recognize enabling for what it is and stop doing it.
When you enable an addict, you are doing things for him that he generally would and could do himself if he wasn’t taking drugs. Enabling means that you are behaving in a way that allows your partner to deny the fact of their addiction and its consequences. If you find yourself doing anything that protects your partner against the consequences of their addiction, you are making it easier for him to deny that it is a problem and to refuse to get help.
How Do You Stop Enabling?
To stop enabling, strengthen the boundaries in your relationship. To improve boundaries, you must: be honest with your partner; forge a stronger connection; promote healthy emotional expression; encourage stronger self-esteem; and resolve conflict in a timely way.
You also need to:
- Stop doing things that let your partner continue in their current lifestyle as a drug addict. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you do things that allow your partner to continue to live as a drug addict with as few difficulties as possible, you are enabling the addiction.
- Cease making excuses and covering up for your partner. Stop making excuses and covering up for your partner when his drug addiction causes him to fail to live up his own responsibilities.
- Never take on any of the responsibilities that would normally belong to your partner. Don’t get into the habit of thinking of any of your partner’s personal responsibilities as your own. Doing so could further cement the addiction.
- Never give or lend your partner money. Giving or lending your partner money could enable their addiction. This is because he or she is likely to turn around and spend the money on drugs.
- Refrain from rescuing in the addict when you must pay fines or be punished in some way. Remember: your drug addict partner must be forced to deal with all the consequences of his addiction.
- Set your boundaries and stick to them diligently. Don’t make threats. Simply set your boundaries and let your partner know that you will be sticking to them no matter what. Explain the boundaries to your partner in a calm and careful way, making yourself clear. Make them understand that these boundaries are for your own sake, not theirs.
- Hold back from showing dramatic reactions. Reacting in a dramatic way to things that the addict does could give them the chance to respond to your reaction rather than the consequences of their actions.
In order to stop enabling, you must make a real commitment to change. You must completely stop playing the part you have played in enabling all the time, not just sometimes. You need to bring a stop to negative behaviors and patterns, putting positive ones in their place. Find support from someone who has experience and someone that you trust. You need their help. Stop enabling your addicted partner and begin empowering yourself.
To empower yourself, you must embark on deep self-reflection. You need to figure out why you allowed your addicted partner and the addiction to control your life. Not only that, you must examine why you do not feel positively enough about who you are to demand better treatment. Finally, you need to answer the question of why you are so afraid of being alone and relying on yourself? Do you fear abandonment? Do you not have enough confidence in yourself and your own abilities?
Learning from Others
Look for the stories of other people who have had a drug-addicted partner or spouse. Reading these can give you profound insight into your own experiences, mistakes, and options for the future.
There are many blogs and other sites out there where you can find these types of personal accounts. One example is “My Husband Was a Drug Addict” at the News24.com site. This story recounts how the writer’s drug-addicted husband stopped caring about the family and having the desire to support his wife and children. She explains that he always presented what he thought was an excuse for letting the family down. These excuses, we read, became more and more implausible.
The writer soon ended up being the sole financial provider and was constantly under stress. This situation led her to lose her personality. It even resulted in her being labeled in negative ways: for example, as the pessimistic worrier, while her husband was seen as laid back and the “life of the party that everyone remembered.”
She explains that she became her husband’s “shadow.” This woman eventually found a happy ending by telling her husband that if he refused to go into rehab treatment, he would not be allowed to come home. He got treatment and recovered. She now says that “she has her husband back.”
The writer points to some of the steps that helped her included: finding her own support group, doing huge amounts of research on drug addiction and how it affects relationships, taking life one day at a time, and being kind to herself.
Another useful example is a letter written to an online parenting advice column by a man who suspected that his wife was an alcoholic. He recounts how her regular excessive drinking has let not only him down but their children down, as well. On one occasion, she drank to excess in front of her daughter, while they were away from home, and the child was forced to come home with a mother so drunk that she peed her pants.
The mother wasn’t driving (they seemed to have come home on a train), but her drunkenness in this context was unacceptable enough without the crime of drunk driving. The daughter was not only embarrassed but frightened. This was the drinking episode that ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back: it made the father realize that his wife was probably an alcoholic. He saw that his wife’s drinking was putting the children in dangerous and extremely stressful situations.
The advice column writer confirmed that judging by the information provided in the letter, the man’s wife was almost certainly an alcoholic. It seems that it had just taken one of the children’s well-being and safety being jeopardized for the father to finally recognize the truth. If you have children, has your drug-addicted partner done anything that has caused your child or children stress or put them in a dangerous or in any way risky situation? If so, you have the responsibility to act and tell your partner that they must get help or you will consider ending the relationship. When you do this, you must mean what you say. Don’t make threats that you don’t have the intention of following through with.
As David Ramsey said on his show in 2014 when giving advice to the wife of an addict, you must develop clear ultimatums. Make it clear that if your partner doesn’t follow through which what needs to be done, he or she is the one choosing to end the relationship. Keep your boundaries strong and healthy all through this difficult process. You will find them to be essential.
Rehab: The Information You Need
Located in the Fort Collins, Colorado, Aspen Ridge North offers drug and alcohol rehab and treatment, as well as sober living facilities, in a safe and controlled (and even enjoyable) environment. It assists individuals 18 and over who require rehab for addiction to one or more of a variety of harmful substances, including heroin, cocaine, crack, hallucinogens, meth, prescription drugs, spice, alcohol, and many others.
Aspen Ridge North seeks to bring the strongest elements of the methods of outpatient treatment and a controlled, sober living environment together to create the best rehab and treatment program for you. It works to ensure that patients are able to obtain the therapy and treatment that they need while still being able to feel like themselves and get enjoyment from life. One of the facility’s goals is that treatment not seem like a hospital stay.
Aspen Ridge North features many pleasant amenities that make your stay one the patient can enjoy. Patients who choose to follow their outpatient treatment with staying at the sober living facility are able to enjoy recreational activities and events to help support them at their most vulnerable time. This assists them in avoiding the temptation to relapse. They’ll have the chance to take part in games, sports, and group outings.
If your partner chooses to undergo their treatment at Aspen Ridge North, they will have the option to either only do the outpatient treatment and then return home or to stay in the sober living environment we can provide them with afterward. A sober living environment is an excellent place for your partner to spend time. While addiction is certainly a treatable disorder, it is more similar to a chronic condition in that it is managed and controlled rather than an acute disease that can be entirely and permanently cured. Don’t lose hope, though! When addicts are in recovery, they’re able to go back to being themselves and productive human beings who can fully function in society.
What If Your Partner Refuses to Get Help?
Remember: you need to set strong boundaries and stop enabling. Once you’ve done that, if your partner continues to refuse to get the help that he needs, there is no real way for you to force them beyond what you’ve already done. You will remember that earlier in the article, we talked about a woman who told her husband that if he refused to get treatment, he wouldn’t be allowed to come home. This tactic worked and her husband has now recovered. A tough approach like this might well work. Keep in mind, though, that you must keep your own individual circumstances and their characteristics in mind.
If you decide that you need to end the relationship, you must practice diligent self-care. Be kind to yourself! Ensure that you are taking care of everything you need to make sure that you will be okay after your departure. If you have children, remember that it is strongly in their interest that their drug-addicted parent gets treatment and recovers. Without the necessary treatment, your partner will be entirely incapable of fulfilling their parental responsibilities. That is an entirely unacceptable situation in every way.
Believe in Yourself!
Do you remember the quote with which we began this article? We read being in a relationship with an addict means always knowing that one’s partner’s life is at risk, that the “worry, fear, and obsession over [the] partner may become chronic.”
If you’re in a relationship with an addict, you probably recognize this as being like your own experience. We understand. To say that this is a daunting situation is an understatement, to say the least. But now that you’ve read and digested the information that we’ve provided here, you have a lot more than you did before in the way of knowledge and tools you should use going forward.
You’ve learned about the many ways drug addiction can affect a relationship, about healthy boundaries and why they’re so vitally important to your well-being, and about what enabling is and how to stop it. Not only that, you’ve read about some of the experiences of others, found out about an excellent rehab program, and been advised on what you can do if your partner refuses to get help.
You’re a much stronger person than you probably realize. You can do this! Take attentive care of yourself and make sure to look after your own interests as much as you possibly can. Make sure to seek professional counseling and advice to help you navigate your way through this challenging situation.