There are many things about drug addiction that are difficult to understand, especially if you love someone who is addicted to drugs. Sometimes, it can feel like the person you love isn’t the person they used to be before they started using. It can also feel like the individual isn’t capable of keeping promises, making you a priority in their life, or doing the other things that are necessary for a relationship to work. You might even be wondering, “Can an addict truly have a meaningful relationship? Does the addict in my life even love me at all?”
Some of these feelings may be coming from a place of frustration and pain, but these are also valid questions to ask, especially if you have been through the ringer with your loved one. The truth is there are ways to have lasting relationships with addicted individuals, but also, you need to make the choice that best suits your life.
Why an Addict Always Chooses Drugs Over Love
No matter how many promises your loved one makes to quit using, no matter how many times it seems like they’ve gotten their drug abuse under control, no matter how often you pick up the pieces of their life, you probably wonder why these same problems keep occurring over and over. The answer is simpler than you may realize: addiction is an illness and it actually changes the way the brain works.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, many people think compulsive drug use is a problem of willpower. This isn’t actually true—or fair—to the addict. Not only is mastering addiction not about inner strength but strength doesn’t even play into it. Strong people become addicted to drugs every day.
The truth is continuous drug use alters the pleasure pathways in the brain, telling the brain that it must compulsively seek out more of the drug. Over time, the brain’s ability to feel pleasure from other sources minimizes, and its only outlet is the use of drugs. The person cannot fight this with simple willpower alone when the brain has been effectively rewired to tell the individual that only one thing will satisfy them.
If you’re wondering why your partner chooses drug abuse over being with you or over a healthy, happy relationship, this is why. Your loved one probably cares about you and using, but they know they cannot do both. This is what leads them to certain actions like saying they will stop using but not being able to or lying to get what they want (National Center for Biotechnology Institute). Eventually, they will return back to their drug abuse, even if they know that it will be problematic for your relationship, because they don’t have full control over their actions.
Remember: drug addiction is a chronically relapsing and compulsive disease. This means that the individual will use without control over their actions and will still be likely to slip and mess up, even after rehab.
How to Have a Relationship with an Addict
Being in a relationship with an addict can be extremely difficult. It can cause serious problems for your children, your finances, and every other aspect of your life. This is one reason why many people have to leave their loved ones who become addicts. Others will stay but often settle into enabling behaviors, like denial, justifying the actions of their loved one, protecting their loved one from consequences, and more (University of Pennsylvania Health System).
If you are in a relationship with an addict and you have seen the ways both of your lives are being negatively affected by their addiction, the best thing you can do is help them seek professional treatment in the form of rehab. Many addicts do not want to seek treatment, so they will do everything they can to avoid it. Here are some tips to help you through this difficult process.
- Stage an intervention with family, friends, and a professional interventionist or therapist.
- Talk with your loved one when they are sober, not when they have been using.
- Set boundaries. Let your partner know that if they refuse to seek treatment, you will not be able to provide them with money, a place to stay, or something else they require from your relationship.
- Stick to your boundaries no matter what. Wishy-washy boundaries are a form of enabling as well.
- Above all, stay calm. If you do so, it’ll be harder for your loved one to make the exchange into a confrontation.
How to Have a Relationship with an Addict in Recovery
If your loved one has chosen rehab, that’s a good sign they are on the road to a life without substance abuse. However, you will need to remember that they are still an addict, even if they have not used in months or even years. They will always have the potential to return to substance abuse and they will require lots of help to avoid this possibility.
The best thing you can do for your loved one in recovery is to provide them with support. Remind them that you are available to them and are sending them your love and encouragement every day. Tell them you are proud of them.
How to End a Relationship with an Addict
Unfortunately, not every relationship can continue on after addiction has run its course. Whether your loved one is getting help or not, you should take the time to think about whether or not you want to continue the relationship. If you do not, be sure to make a clean break. Try not to stick around and keep being friendly with the individual, as you will both need time apart to heal and this could only create more drama and confusion, which will be worse for both of your recoveries.
All in all, every relationship is different, and addiction can cause many different problems, some of which may be insurmountable. Remember to think about everything that your relationship is and if you are willing to do the work required of you to be in a relationship with an addict, just as you would expect your partner to put work into your relationship and their recovery.