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Dealing with a Partner’s Addiction

Few challenges to the love between two people are as painful as a partner’s addiction to drugs or alcohol. While some of the problems faced may vary with the substance being abused, there are common behaviors that make addiction a real love destroyer. Alcoholics and addicts really make their partners suffer. They are usually insensitive to the needs and feelings of their partners; their priority is drinking, tweaking or bingeing, not a partner. Addiction brings out the worst in a person: broken agreements, violated boundaries and behavior that can be out-and-out abusive. It’s an ugly picture.

How do you know if a partner has a problem with alcohol or drugs? Often the first sign is screwing up at work or missing work altogether because of too much partying the night before. Getting arrested for DUI is another.  Some men seem to view a DUI arrest as almost a rite of passage and a normal part of life.  It is not; it’s almost always a red flag that a person either has a problem or is quickly headed toward one.

Sexual acting out can also be a sign of a problem. An increase in fights or arguments is a marker for many couples; sometimes it is clear that your guy has had a major personality change as his problem has progressed.  (A word to those who see themselves in the above description: if you wonder if you have a problem, you probably do have a problem.)

Watching your guy self-destruct is awful – a bit like watching someone die painfully. We hope he’ll change, so we make threats or deliver ultimatums. Sometimes we make excuses for family, friends or employers, hoping to shield the addict/alcoholic from the worst effects of his behavior. Other times we try to keep him away from the club where he drinks too much with his buddies, or the guy who supplies him with crystal.

We try to reason with him and point out what’s going on. (Maybe he agrees at the time, but he is either trying to buy us of with compliance or is unable to control his desire for a drink or bump.) If our taste runs to drama, we may have visions of doing an intervention worthy of Dr. Phil. Unfortunately, these strategies mostly just make him more resentful and drive him further away.

What works? Before you can help someone else, you need to face your own reality. There is a limit to what you can do. His drinking or drugging isn’t something you caused, and you are not going to reform him. He won’t stop drinking or using until he’s ready to do so, and you aren’t responsible for his drinking.

Your first job is to take care of yourself. Don’t put up with abuse from him, for one thing. Stop making excuses for him or covering up his messes; think of it as “tough love.” You can also let him know how his behavior affects you. Don’t bother trying this when you’re partner’s high or drunk. He won’t remember the conversation. Arguing with a drunk is pretty much a waste of your time. Pick a time when he is clear headed.

You can help by getting in touch with Alcoholics Anonymous ( www.alcoholics-anonymous.org ), your family physician, a minister, priest or rabbi or someone else who may be willing to speak with your partner. But be mindful that before your lover can be helped, he must acknowledge that the problem exists. Until that happens, no healing or recovery is possible.

And what if your partner isn’t interested in help? You can still get help for yourself. Alanon (www.alanon.org) is a resource that has helped thousands of people cope with addiction in their families.

You can work with a mental health professional to help take care of yourself, educate yourself about the disease you’re dealing with and manage the stress on your relationship. Sometimes when one person grows and changes the other person in the relationship changes, too.

About John

I have been  licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years.  My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression.  My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships. 

I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems.  My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate.  If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.

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