Here’s a question – one that may be uncomfortable to answer, or even think about if someone you or someone you love is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction:
What does addiction do?
We looked up a standard definition of “drug addiction” that explained that addiction is a disease or condition that is brought about when a person ingests a substance such as heroin, painkillers, benzos or alcohol that can be pleasurable – but with continued use, the behavior becomes compulsive. The behavior becomes a habit and a need – despite being known by the user as harmful.
What the definition failed to mention is what addiction does to the individual and the people around him or her. What often follows addiction is complete destruction. Addiction to drugs or alcohol often interferes with every part of life that makes it worth living. Addiction so often leads to heartache, financial troubles, anger, a damaged body, missed opportunities, lost jobs, arguments, lying, cheating, stealing, manipulating, shame, guilt, loss of freedom, and perhaps most painful — broken relationships.
If your loved one is addicted heroin, he will do things he’d never normally think of doing. If she’s addicted to drinking alcohol she will do things she isn’t proud of. If your loved one is actively addicted to drugs or alcohol, he or she will hurt you. Although it’s likely that he or she never had the intention of hurting you, damaging or ending the relationship – with addiction in play, it is inevitable.
Addiction and the Cycle of Destruction in Relationships
Addiction certainly creates of a physical form of destruction – but often more devastating, is the impact that addiction has on the mental and emotional well-being of the person using, and everyone around him or her. Drugs and alcohol directly impact the same part of the brain that controls emotions, impulse behavior and control, motivation, and habits.
Drug addiction and difficult relationships go hand in hand, and often become cyclical: Drug or alcohol abuse initiates conflict, that conflict causes stress, stress causes the addicted person to use, conflict ensues about drug use – and so on. As drug use continues, tension builds each passing day without resolve. Physical, emotional, or verbal abuse can become tactics in order to continue using or drinking. The cycle repeats over and over as tension mounts, and eventually can boil over.
Addiction is Toxic to Healthy Relationships
Honesty and open communication are two keys when it comes to a healthy relationship – but neither of those behaviors tends to be found when it comes to addiction. Instead of being open and truthful, some of the common factors in conversation may include:
- Denial of drug use, drug abuse or addiction
- Defensiveness if drug use is brought up
- A “flight or fight” attitude if addiction or addiction treatment is discussed
- Justification of irrational behavior
- Avoiding family members or friends who may have confronted him or her about addiction
- Lying about drug or alcohol use
If a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, look at the relationship this way:
- Do you ever “cover” for your loved one – lying about his drug use, or calling in sick for her at work?
- Have you ever been put down? Physically, mentally or emotionally degraded by your loved one?
- Do you try to hide your loved one’s drug use or drinking from family or friends?
- Do many of your arguments surround his or her drug use? What about drug related issues – such as financial issues, missed events, job loss or staying out all night?
- Does your loved one do drugs after getting into arguments? Do you feel guilty about it?
- Have your fights ever become physical?
- Does your loved one miss events and milestones that are important to you – because he or she is drunk or high? Anniversaries, children’s sporting events or birthdays?
These types of problems don’t go away on their own – they can only heal when addiction is addressed and treated properly.
If Drugs are Winning
It’s hard not to feel like drugs are winning and your relationship is losing. So often our addiction treatment specialists hear:
“If he loves me, then why is he still using?”
“She knows I’ll be angry if I find out she’s been drinking.”
“He should choose me over drugs. He should choose his family over drugs.”
When you love someone who is addicted, you may reach the point that you issue the ultimate threat: “It’s drugs or me.”
You expect they’ll choose you – after all, anyone who really loves you wound dump the drugs, right? The truth is, however – it’s not that simple.
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If your loved one could simply choose to stop – he wouldn’t be addicted. His or her urge to continue using isn’t about love or family – it’s about a psychological and physical urge that can be dangerous and deadly to just stop. Your addicted loved one will choose drugs over EVERYTHING – not just his or her relationship or family. Drugs will come before friends, jobs, opportunity, food, personal hygiene.
If you feel like drugs are winning – know that you aren’t actually losing. His or her addiction isn’t personal. It’s a disease.
Choosing to stay in an addicted relationship is personal. Your loved one can’t make healthy decisions if he or she is actively addicted to drugs – but you can. As long as you love and live with an addicted person, you need to get help and support for yourself. Offer love and support to yourself – and offer as much love and support to your loved one as you feel comfortable/
Your relationship isn’t losing, because the direction you take is your choice. You can protect yourself knowing that your loved one’s rejection of you is NOT caused by the absence of love – it’s caused by addiction.