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How Drug Addiction Affects Relationships

by General Marketing

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,  their life revolves 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

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.

Codependency can be between two people abusing drugs, family members or spouses of people using drugs, or children of addicted individuals. For example, a study published in Addiction and Health found that codependency was significantly higher in women married to addicted men. In a codependent relationship, one person relies on the other to fulfill their emotional needs and give them self-esteem. It also describes a relationship that enables an addicted person to continue self-destructive behavior.

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.

Codependency does not always have to be between romantic partners. For example, sometimes children of addicted parents become codependent and take on caretaker roles.

Codependent people often have good intentions and are trying to care for the person with an addiction. They might make excuses for their addicted husband, child or sibling, for example, thinking they are helping the person. They become obsessed with the relationship and the person’s addiction, worrying about the person and wondering what they can do to control the situation. Codependency, just like addiction, damages self-esteem further and can lead to depression and anxiety.

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

negative risks of codependency

Negative Risks of Codependency and Enabling Behaviors

Codependency and enabling behavior can be damaging in relationships for everyone involved. If an addicted person never has to face the consequences of their addiction, they may not realize they need help. Ultimately, enabling can lead to medical, financial and relationship issues throughout the family.

According to one study published in 2016, codependency leads to poor health, self-neglect and additional responsibilities for affected family members. The study concluded that codependency harms the family system and the health of family members of addicted individuals. In fact, self-neglect was almost three times more likely to occur in families with high codependency. Other risks involved with codependency and enabling include:

  • Other family members developing an addiction
  • Losing relationships with others outside of the addicted relationship
  • Difficulty maintaining responsibilities outside of the relationship

Even though it’s natural to want to help the person you love, enabling does not help anyone in the long run. The best step a family member, friend or significant other can take to help an addicted loved one is to let them face the reality of their addiction and the consequences of their behavior. To do so, a loved one of an addicted person can:

  • Not take responsibility for any problems the addicted person should be handling
  • Try not to protect the addicted person
  • Not accept guilt, as it is not the other person’s job to fix an addicted person
  • Let the loved one know how serious the addiction is
  • Suggest they get treatment and counseling
  • Seek counseling themselves to address codependency and mental health

For the addicted individual, codependency and enabling can negatively impact their attempt to get help before and after treatment. It’s critical to make codependency part of an addicted person’s treatment plan.

Sexuality, 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 opioids, 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.

Another concern with drug use and sexuality is the drugs’ physical effects on the body. For example, an article from the Journal of Psychosexual Health found that drug abuse negatively affects sexual performance. On the other hand, opioids may temporarily increase sex drive and the risk of engaging in dangerous sexual behavior.

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.

Romantic Relationships and Substance Use

Perhaps one of the most common issues with addiction is the psychological effects on a significant other. Addiction creates a unique dynamic between the addicted person and their romantic partner. An addicted partner will focus their energy on obtaining and using a drug and not always worry about being romantic or satisfying their partner’s needs.

While difficulty with physical intimacy plays a big part in romantic relationships and can create unnecessary emotional boundaries, addiction can also cause emotional and mental strain for all parties involved. Once an addiction forms, quality time together is often reduced unless it includes using the substance, and responsibilities at home may be neglected. A person addicted to drugs may alter their behavior and start spending less time at home.

An addicted person may also try to keep their substance use secret from their romantic partner at first. Secrecy and lying often lead to distrust in a relationship, which can devolve into consistent arguments. The addicted partner may feel guilt, judgment or lack of support from their significant other, while a romantic partner may react to the situation with accusations, controlling behaviors or excessive caretaking.

Addiction can also cause financial strain since substance use is often expensive. An addicted person might resort to stealing from their romantic partner or using joint accounts to fund their substance use. Once their other half discovers this, arguing may increase, or a romantic partner may turn to codependent or enabling behaviors to try to patch up the relationship.

This causes a significant strain and is often overwhelming for the codependent partner. They may feel a need to care for or cover for their significant other and resolve any issues that appear. It can often feel one-sided and make recovery difficult for the partner who struggles with substance abuse.

The disconnect between the two parties and consistent arguing create a dangerous situation. If arguing has become common due to an addiction, domestic violence can develop in the home. Domestic violence can include physical, mental and emotional abuse. Romantic partners might be yelled at or intimidated when the topic of addiction is brought up, or they may feel fear of physical retaliation and choose not to talk about addiction altogether.

Not all of these signs will be present in each relationship, but if you recognize even one, it may be time to talk with your partner about seeking professional help and treatment to repair the relationship. You can also speak directly with a recovery facility to determine what treatment options are available to you or your loved one.

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

Violence and Abuse Coming From Drug Addiction Relationships

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.

Addiction can also cause communication issues, which can then lead to frustration, resentment and abuse. A couple might fight and argue over financial problems or dishonesty relating to the addiction, which can escalate into violence.

Codependent Relationships With Drug Addiction

Some couples use drugs together, and their shared addiction may seem like the only thing that makes them feel close. It can be especially challenging to recover in a relationship centered around addiction. A person may learn to associate their partner with the addiction.

Addicted couples may also show they care about one another by helping each other obtain drugs and avoid withdrawal. This can form a strong relationship of codependency. Despite the challenges, it’s possible to recover from addiction together.

contact HCRC

Steps to Take for a Relationship That Depends on Drug Addiction

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.

If you’re ready to take the next step, Health Care Resource Centers (HCRC) is here to help. We are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), signifying our commitment to high-quality care to facilitate recovery. All of our programs are federally certified and licensed by the state, so you can rest assured that you’ll receive professional treatment at any of our facilities.

At HCRC, we are committed to helping patients recover from opioid use disorder. Using medication-assisted treatment, we focus on reducing the effects of opioid withdrawal so patients can focus on healing the mental, emotional and spiritual effects of addiction. Our treatment programs include a mix of individual counseling, group counseling and family counseling to provide a comprehensive treatment service that addresses all of our patients’ needs.

We have multiple treatment facilities across New England so that you can find treatment close to home. If you aren’t located within the New England area, we have affiliate programs across the U.S to help you find treatment when you need it most. If you or your significant other are battling an opioid addiction, reach out to us at HCRC today.

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Medically Reviewed By:

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

The Clinical Team at Health Care Resource Centers is our team of physicians and medical directors within the organization. HCRC is a CARF accredited organization and has been providing addiction treatment services for over 32 years in the New England area.

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