How addiction affects your relationship
A substance use problem often leads to changes in a person’s behaviour that can be damaging to a relationship. They may be emotional and unpredictable. They may feel ashamed or afraid of the consequences of their addiction being discovered. They will sometimes lie to conceal the true extent of it.
If this sounds like your partner, you may wonder what impact it is likely to have on your relationship.
Secrecy and deceit can cause a breakdown of trust in the relationship. As the partner of an addicted person, you may feel suspicious of the reasons for your partner’s behaviour. You might also feel confused, scared, or angry at the change in your partner and the unpredictable situation.
“The worst thing when I discovered their addiction was that I’d been lied to”.
A partner with a substance use problem may have highs and lows – they may be happy and positive one moment, and anxious, irritable, or depressed the next. They may be preoccupied and pay less attention to their partner. This unpredictable behaviour and mood can often cause arguments.
If an argument starts every time you try to discuss the problem, both of you may give up trying to talk, leading to a breakdown in communication. A distance can grow between you, and there may be a loss of interest in sex or intimacy.
“If I try to explain why I started drinking it turns into a row. It’s easier not to talk to each other at all”.
However, problematic substance use is not always hidden. You might know that your partner has a problem but feel like you are walking on eggshells as you try to keep the peace. You might also fear that, if you rock the boat, you will drive you partner further into their addiction.
Sometimes, people will take on more responsibility in the home, with childcare and finances, to compensate for their partner becoming unreliable. You might feel you have to take control of everything and even become a ‘parent’ to your partner.
Children in the family can also suffer. The parent with the addiction may become withdrawn and lose interest in family activities. The other partner may be distracted because of juggling extra responsibilities. Children are often aware of arguments and tension in the home and feel scared and confused. If they get used to seeing addictive behaviour, they may learn and develop similar behaviour themselves.
What to do when dealing with a substance use problem
Facing up to a substance use problem can feel hard, as it often makes the problem seem more real. But, in a relationship where one person has a problem, both partners may be in denial. If you both feel powerless to make changes, it can feel easier to pretend nothing is happening.
You may feel like you can’t talk to family and friends about the problem. You may blame yourself or just feel embarrassed that outsiders will see your partner or your relationship in a negative way. Your partner may have asked you not to tell anyone. There are then two people feeling very scared, resentful, and lonely within the relationship.
Talking to an unbiased person outside of your relationship can feel a real relief and a step toward change. If you are experiencing problems in your relationship as the result of addiction, it may be worth seeking professional help.
Online relationship advice such as our listening room, support, information, and counselling can be very valuable in many cases. If you are experiencing domestic violence or any form of abuse in your relationship or family, it may be advisable for you to seek support from a specialist agency.
If the problem is long term, involves cutting or physical harm, or has been triggered by traumatic life events, it may be advisable to seek face-to-face counselling via a specialist agency or your GP.
If you are worried about someone close to you, you may find it helpful to check out Relationship Realities which features real stories by real people who are affected by alcohol and drug use problems.