Being in a relationship with an addict is hard. Some might even say it’s one of the biggest challenges a person can go through in their romantic life.
As Dr. David Sack points out in Psychology Today, one person’s addiction can threaten their partner’s physical, emotional, and financial health as well as their professional life. At the same time, it also makes us extremely sad to watch people we love treat themselves so poorly. We worry about their health and fear that they might overdose. “There’s nothing more painful than seeing someone you love hurt themselves and those around them,” Dr. Sack writes.
But, the worst part about being in a relationship with a drug addict is the challenges it presents for the sober person. Namely, the addict’s behavior usually forces us to consider whether to stay with the addict or leave them.
Obviously, it’s painful to leave someone we love. But, if their addiction is making our lives worse, it’s important that we do what’s best for us. After all, our physical and mental health is at stake.
What Do I Do if I Love an Addict?
When it comes to loved one’s addictions, there are no easy answers. Whether or not you leave them depends on how bad their habit is and the types of problems it causes for you. For example, if you’re in love with an alcoholic who physically hurts you when they’re drunk, it’s important to get out of the relationship as quickly as possible. The decision to leave could be the difference between life and death.
But, if your loved one is not abusive in any way and has expressed interest in going to drug rehab, you might consider staying with them and helping them. Ultimately, you have to look at the circumstances of the situation and decide what’s best for you.
If you’re in love with an addict and pondering how to handle it, there are some important things you should know. We’ve outlined some key information about addiction, answered some commonly-asked question, and compiled some resources below. Hopefully, this article will help you and your loved ones to get through the situation safely and happily.
If you’re worried that your family member might be addicted to drugs or alcohol, take our free online assessment. We’ll let you know whether or not you need to get them into treatment.
Drugs and Relationships are Competing Forces
As Dr. Akikur Mohammad explains in a Huffington Post article, love and drugs produce similar effects in the brain. They’re both cause an increase of a chemical called dopamine, in the brain. “This powerful and important neurotransmitter is the primary reason we seek out certain substances and experiences,” Dr. Mohammad writes, “In essence, it’s one of the driving forces behind all motivation.”
The doctor elaborates on this idea. He describes how our brain is essentially programmed to respond to dopamine. When we do something that generates dopamine in our brain, the brain takes note of that dopamine hit. It causes us to crave that activity because it remembers that we felt good the first time we did it. That’s why an addict’s brain constantly generates cravings.
“Chemically speaking…love alone doesn’t stand much of a chance against addiction.”
~ Dr. Akikur Mohammad, Huffington Post
“When you look at basically any type of reward, whether it be reading a good book, eating a rich piece of chocolate cake, or finally getting that long-deserved promotion, the warm and fuzzy feelings you get are all the result of dopamine production,” the doctor says.
But, as the article points out, drugs provide a much larger rush than any other activities (even making love). According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, certain drugs generate a dopamine rush 10 times larger than other non-drug activities.
Therefore, love and drug addiction are in constant competition with one another. And, unfortunately, love usually loses the battle. “Chemically speaking…love alone doesn’t stand much of a chance against addiction,” Dr. Mohammad writes. This, of course, makes being in a relationship with a drug addict feel like a futile effort.
But Can a Drug Addict Love You?
This isn’t to say that addicts are incapable of love, however. In fact, some psychologists believe that love is the key to helping someone quit drugs. One psychologist is Beverly Engel. “The most significant and beneficial [recovery] strategies involve becoming more compassionate toward your loved one,” Engel writes in Psychology Today, “Compassion is the key to helping someone with an addiction problem.”
She cites recent research that shows how love can motivate addicts to get clean. Specifically, she discusses an addiction treatment method called Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT).
This method helps the family members of drug addicts to create a positive environment for addicts in order to help them overcome their addiction. “It teaches them how to take control of their lives, and to change their interactions with the substance abuser in ways that promote positive behavioral change,” she says.
Ideally, showing compassion for the addict you love will help them to understand the effects of their addiction. It will remind them that they are loved and, hopefully, they’ll have a moment of clarity when they understand that it’s time to love you back.
Don’t Get Addicted to Trying to Fix Them, Though
In a Huffington Post article entitled “What You Learn From Loving An Addict,” writer Alicia Cook discusses her experience with addict relationships. She points out, rightly so, that it’s easy to become overwhelmed in your effort to fix them.
“Loving a drug addict can and will consume your every thought,” she writes, “Watching their physical deterioration and emotional detachment to everything will make you the most tired insomniac alive.”
Drawing on her own experience, Cook writes about her attempts to fix the addict she loved. In the end, her efforts only caused her pain and sadness. “[You] stand in the doorway of their bedroom and plead with them that you ‘just want them back,’” she writes, “If you watch the person you love disappear right in front of your eyes long enough, you will start to dissolve too.”
While Cook’s article offers no alternatives to trying to fix the addicts we love, this is a problem that many people encounter. After all, it’s easy to think that we can convince our loved ones to quit. But, in reality, we can’t force them to do it if they don’t want to.
We can show them compassion and encourage them to get sober. But, they must decide to fix the problem themselves. Until they do that, we must come to terms with our powerlessness.
Don’t Enable the Addicts You Love, Either
The worst thing you can do in a relationship with an addict is enabling them to keep using. Enablement takes many forms. In some cases, the enabler might give their loved one money for “food” or “rent” while knowing deep down that the addict will spend it on drugs. In other cases, the enabler might simply give the addict a place to live despite the addict’s lack of interest in getting sober. It looks different in every situation.
According to Darlene Lancer’s article “Are You an Enabler?”, published on PsychCentral.com, enabling is allowing the addict to keep using drugs without consequences. So, if you continuously bail your spouse out of jail when they’re arrested for drunk driving, you might be enabling. Or, if you allow your adult child to use drugs in the house despite the effects of their habit.
While it may seem inconsequential to do these things, they actually promote drug use. If you provide a safety net for the addict you love, they’re not going to stop using because they know you’ll catch them when they fall.
“The pressure to enable can be intense, particularly coming from suffering or angry addicts who use manipulation to get their needs met,” Lancer writes. But, pulling the safety net out from under the addict you love may be the best way to help them get sober.
If you’re in a relationship with an alcoholic or a drug addict and you enable them to keep using, it could be a sign of a larger problem. Specifically, it could be a symptom of your own codependency issues.
In simple terms, codependency is defined by an inability to define boundaries in a relationship. Oftentimes, a codependent person is unable to say “no”, especially when they’re in a relationship with an addict. The codependent cares more about how their partner feels than how they feel themselves. As a result, they usually do whatever it takes to keep their partner happy.
As you might imagine, addicts and codependents often gravitate toward one another as romantic partners. The codependent person benefits from feeling like they’re helping the addict while the addict benefits from their partner’s enablement.
Usually, codependent people don’t even realize that they’re making the problem worse. But, in fact, they actually prevent their loved one from getting clean.
Sometimes, We Have to Let Addicts Hit Rock Bottom
If you’re reading this thinking, “I love an addict but I don’t know what to do…”, you might not like this advice. But, many addiction professionals believe that the best thing you can do is let your loved one hit rock bottom.
For those who aren’t familiar with the term, “rock bottom” is a phrase that describes the lowest point in an addict’s life. Rock bottom looks different for everyone. For some addicts, it means that they’re homeless and jobless. For others, it means jail. In some cases, rock bottom is when their family walks away from them.
“You realize at the bottom that you were, in fact, not where you thought you were in life.”
~ Anonymous, Dailygreatness.com
Many recovered addicts swear that if they never hit their bottom, they never would have gotten clean. For example, one anonymous author on Dailygreatness.com writes, “At the bottom, all your dysfunctional behaviors are finally revealed. If you never hit your lowest point, the dysfunctions continue to go unnoticed and unchecked.”
So, allowing your loved one to hit bottom on their own may be the most generous thing you can do for them. Obviously, it’s a painful decision to make. But, it comes with the territory of being in a relationship with an addict. Whereas enabling them in a codependent manner allows them to keep using, letting them hit rock bottom could help them overcome their addiction.
Consider Holding an Intervention
If you are in love with an addict but you’re considering walking away from the relationship, it might help to stage an intervention first. This gives the addict one last opportunity to salvage the relationship and prove to you that they want to change. Ideally, a successful intervention convinces the addict that they need to go through detox and rehab.
When organizing the intervention, you should reach out to other members of the addict’s family. These might be parents, children, siblings, close friends or others who have a close relationship with the addict.
But, It’s important to keep the group small. Only invite those people who actually need to be there. Typically, everyone in attendance should have specific examples of how the addict has affected their lives. These individuals should be willing to share their examples during the intervention.
Here are some tips for conducting a successful intervention:
Establish a plan: Before you hold the intervention, find a rehab center that you want the addict to attend. The more solid your plan is, the easier it will be to get the addict on board. That way, if they agree to professional treatment, they can go immediately from the meeting.
Decide on an ultimatum: In order to get the addict into detox, there has to be something at stake. Whether that means that they have to move out of the house or that you’re leaving, you should present them with options. If during the intervention they decide against rehab, it’s crucial that you hold them to the consequences.
Meet with the family beforehand: Once you’ve decided who to involve in the intervention, get together to lay the ground rules. Let everyone know that they must remain calm during the meeting. Remind them that the goal is to help the addict, not hurt their feelings. Tell them about your rehab plan so that everyone has the same goal. Some people might want to write intervention letters to help them gather their thoughts.
Hire an intervention facilitator: Many addiction therapists offer intervention services. You should consider hiring one. These therapists help to conduct the meeting and ensure that everyone stays calm. They also act as a symbolic authority, which tends to make the addict take the meeting more seriously.
Keep your cool: During the meeting, it’s important that everyone stays calm and collected. No one should raise their voice. An intervention isn’t the time to express anger or grievances, even if the addict has hurt people’s feelings. Let them know that you love them and hope to maintain your relationship with them. Present your ultimatum in a stern but fact-of-the matter way.
Stick to the ultimatum: If your loved one opts against receiving treatment, don’t budge on the consequences. Whether this means that you’ll sever your relationship with the addict, move out, or force them to move out, don’t change your mind. The addict might plead for forgiveness. But, they only have two options and that can’t change no matter how much you love them.
Remember, one of the best things you can do for an addict is to let them hit rock bottom. So, if they refuse treatment, the next most helpful thing you can do is leave them alone to figure it out themselves.
An Intervention Success Story
Recently, we met one married couple whose relationship was nearly destroyed by drugs. But, fortunately, a last-ditch intervention effort helped them to salvage their marriage.
“I held an intervention before, a year prior, but he refused to go to treatment so I moved out,” said Grace B., the wife in the relationship, “Luckily, the second time around was successful.”
Grace explains that, after several months of separation, her husband Max moved back into the house. “He told me that he’d gotten sober and I believed him for a while,” she says, “But really, he just got better at hiding it. He said he was working late so he could come home after I’d fallen asleep.”
“I told him that I couldn’t be in a relationship with an alcoholic anymore. I told him that he needed to go to rehab or I was moving out.”
~ Grace B.
It wasn’t until Max was arrested for a DUI that Grace realized he’d been lying about his sobriety. But, after his arrest, she decided that another intervention was necessary. This time, the consequences would be permanent.
“I told him that I couldn’t be in a relationship with an alcoholic anymore. I told him that he needed to go to rehab or I was moving out,” she explains, saying that it was the hardest decision she’d ever have to make. “Being in a relationship with an alcoholic is difficult, but leaving your husband when you still love him is even harder.”
Fortunately, Max chose to go to attend a 28-day inpatient rehab program. Once he went through alcohol detox, he never looked back. “My wife should get a medal for everything I put her through,” he says, smiling. “She could seriously write an alcoholic relationship survival guide. I’m lucky she’s in my life.”
When it’s Time to Leave an Addict
Sadly, there may come a time when you have to leave your addicted partner. No matter how much you love them, the emotional pain becomes too unbearable at a certain point. In order to protect your own mental (or physical) health, you may have to sever ties.
Here are some signs that it may be time to call your relationship off:
The relationship is abusive: If the addict is physically or emotionally abusive, get out of there as soon as possible. No matter how much they threaten you or make you feel like you’re hopeless without them, you need to walk away. Call a family member, a trusted friend, or even a domestic violence hotline for help.
Children are affected: If you have kids, you may have to lower your tolerance for the addict’s behavior. It might be necessary to remove the children from the situation, even if the relationship isn’t abusive. Addicted parents can have long-lasting effects on their child’s mental health. So, it’s important to take your children into consideration.
They don’t want to change: If the addict has no intention of changing, it might be time to leave. The problems you’re currently facing will only get worse. It’s possible to love an addict in recovery, but it’s difficult to stay with someone who doesn’t want to get better. It may be tough, especially if you still love them, but do you want to take care of them forever?
They’re holding you back: When maintaining your relationship is preventing you from living your best life, you might want to get out. It doesn’t make sense to have your dreams ruined by someone else’s addiction. If your self-esteem and mental health are only going to deteriorate over time, you might want to end the relationship in order to pursue a happier life.
Remember, you’re not a failure for cutting the addict out of your life. Even if you love the addict, you can’t be expected to live an unmanageable life for them. It’s more important to take care of your own needs first.
Al-Anon: A Resource for the Families of Addicts
When you’re in love with an addict, it’s important that you reach out for support. Al-Anon meetings are one place where you can get the support you need.
At these meetings, the family members of addicts gather to discuss their experiences. They share stories, talk about their loved ones, and help each other work toward getting better.
After all, drug addiction and alcoholism have negative effects on everyone involved. It doesn’t just affect the addict themselves. Al-Anon is designed to help the addict’s spouse and other family members recover from the effects of addiction.
Click here to find an Al-Anon meeting near you
Surviving a Relationship with an Addict
Remember, if you’re in a relationship with an alcoholic or drug addict, you’re not alone. Data shows us that there are more than 24 million addicts and recovered addicts in America. A lot of those people are in relationships. So, there are a ton of people out there going through the same thing as you.
The most important thing is that you keep yourself safe. Do what you need to do to protect your physical and emotional well-being.
If you want to discuss rehab options and help your loved one get clean, please contact us. We’d love to help you to figure out the best way to get them back on track.