Romantic relationships aren’t easy. Combining the personalities, backgrounds, and temperaments of two people is bound to result in some kind of friction, even if it’s just the rare squabble over what to watch on TV or how to load the dishwasher. But when you add in a huge obstacle like a drug or alcohol addiction, a couple is in for an even rockier road.
Addiction doesn’t just affect the person struggling with it. It can harm family, friends, and especially intimate partners. Being in a relationship with an addict can cause feelings of distrust, betrayal, hopelessness, and anger. It can also cause financial hardships, as more and more money earmarked for the household or the couple’s future is funneled toward drugs or alcohol.
For the partners of an addict, it can seem as though the person they love has been replaced by someone who acts nothing like the person they know, who seems to care more about getting their next fix than anything else, including their relationship.
One important thing to realize is that you can’t force an addict into rehab. They have to be ready to make the choice themselves. While you can confront them with the reality of their addiction, offer them the option to attend detox and rehab, and set “bottom lines”—such as withdrawal of financial support or the end of your relationship if they fail to attend rehab—you can’t make the decision for them.
What are the Signs of Addiction?
When the substance use involves illegal drugs, like heroin, it can be easy to tell when rehab is necessary. But when the addiction is to prescribed medication or alcohol, lines can be blurred. The use of alcohol or medications can seem normal to many and addicts are often skilled at hiding the extent of their use.
Here are some things to ask yourself:
- Is your loved one stealing to fuel their habit or spending funds meant for rent, food, or other necessities on drugs or alcohol?
- Are pill bottles meant to last weeks appearing empty much sooner?
- Has your partner’s behavior changed drastically? Do they seem completely unlike the person you fell in love with?
- Does your romantic partner show physical signs of drug use, like bloodshot eyes, frequent alcohol odor on the breath, changes in sleep, or drastic weight loss?
- Have they gotten into legal trouble, or taken out-of-character risks, like driving under the influence?
- Do they exhibit frequent mood swings?
- Are they engaging in secretive behaviors, like hiding bottles of booze, or sneaking out of the house?
- Have they lost interest in activities they once loved?
Once you recognize that your partner needs help with their addiction, the next step is to confront them. Often, it’s helpful to organize an intervention. Usually done under the supervision of a professional, this surprise meeting between the addict and their loved ones is a helpful tool to guide a reluctant addict toward rehab. It’s harder for the addict to deny the consequences of their addiction when their family and friends are detailing how it has impacted them and outlining the consequences if they refuse to get help.
One thing to remember: If you make a promise at an intervention, be prepared to keep it. If you tell your partner you’ll leave the relationship if they refuse to go to rehab, have a plan in place to follow through.
Empty threats will teach an addict that they can keep taking advantage of you. Without real consequences, the addict has little reason to change or give up the addictions that bring them some measure of comfort and control.
What Will Your Partner’s Recovery Be Like?
Treatments vary depending on the duration and type of addiction treatment program –12-step, non 12-step, faith-based, inpatient, or dual diagnosis, which treats addiction and other mental health issues simultaneously, etc. Your partner’s duration of treatment will usually last from 30 to 90 days.
But no matter what kind of program your partner enters, they’ll probably start with detox. Detox “cleans” the system of drugs and alcohol. The process usually includes medical intervention to ensure the safety of the patient and can last anywhere from a few days to over a week, depending on the substances involved and the amounts present.
Detox involves three major components:
- Evaluation. This stage involves testing for substances in the patient’s system and screening for co-occurring mental or physical conditions so the staff can design an effective treatment plan. The patient’s home and social situation are also considered when shaping the recovery plan.
- Stabilization. This helps the patient through the most intense phases of intoxication and withdrawal. Sometimes medication is involved to address the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal, which can include nausea, vomiting, headaches, confusion, anxiety, and depression.
- Readying the patient for rehab. Once the patient is stable, hard work lies ahead. Getting clean is one thing. Now the treatment center staff must focus on preparing the patient to stay clean. This usually involves intense counseling to arm them with the tools they need to stay sober for the long term.
The goal of medically assisted detox is to keep your partner as comfortable as possible while the drugs leave their system. But detox will still be an unpleasant process. Your loved one will probably feel terrible and may not feel like contacting you or even be permitted to do so until their detox is completed. The staff, on the other hand, might contact you to discuss what to expect going forward and uncover information that may be necessary for them to develop a successful addiction treatment program.
What’s Your Role in Your Partner’s Recovery?
When your partner enters addiction recovery, your job isn’t over. Your support is more important now than ever. They’ll need to know they’re working toward something: a healthy, drug-free life with their loved ones.
Here are some things you can do:
- Stay in touch. Often, inpatient drug rehab centers restrict the amount of outside contact patients can have, especially at first. While policies vary, most rehab centers eventually encourage visits from family and friends, as they are an important motivator in the recovery process. Learn the policy for visiting, calling, and writing letters to your partner while they’re in rehab and contact them as often as your schedule and the rules permit.
- Participate in family therapy. After recovery, your loved one will return to the same environment — with the same people and the same issues they faced before, only without the drugs or alcohol they used to escape them. The stress and problems that caused them to abuse drugs and alcohol won’t magically disappear. It’s important for the family to learn how to work through issues and support the addict through their recovery.
- Prepare for life after rehab. About 40 to 60 percent of addicts will relapse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Relapse shouldn’t be viewed as a sign that recovery has failed, or that an addict isn’t trying hard enough. Instead, it should be seen as a normal part of the recovery process, and a sign that treatment should be extended or revised. Prepare yourself for the possibility of a relapse, and act to find appropriate treatment should it occur.
Addiction in a relationship causes heartache for both parties involved. Addicts are fighting a disease that could cost them money, relationships, and even their life. Non-addicted partners are watching someone they love morph into someone they may not even recognize.
While addiction is treatable, it takes work for both parties to successfully overcome addiction and rebuild a strong, healthy relationship. Relationships aren’t created by one person. And they can’t be healed without the cooperation of both people involved.
Post-treatment therapy might be needed to help both of you learn how to adjust to a new lifestyle. Contact us to discuss a treatment plan that’s right for you.
- Tn.gov – Warning Signs of Drug Abuse
- Mayoclinic.org – Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction
- Sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Drug Rehab in Colorado Springs, Colorado
- Drugabuse.gov – Treatment and Recovery
About the Author and Guest Blogger
Andrea Poteet-Bell is a journalist and editor at Sunshine Behavioral Health. Her writing has appeared in local daily newspapers, alternative weeklies, and websites across the country. She graduated from the University of Michigan-Dearborn with a degree in print journalism and lives in Michigan with her husband and dog, Charlie Brown.