If you live with someone with an addiction, you may feel like you’re not living at all. You love your partner, but dealing with the lies you so desperately want to believe and the deep denial that feeds their dependence have put the relationship under enormous strain. Life with an addicted partner can feel like a three-way struggle: you, your loved one, and an uninvited partner called substance abuse.
And all too often, the substance wins.
Even when your significant other has sought help for their addiction, and through hard work and dedication has seemingly broken free from the overwhelming urge to use, the war is often not over. In fact, it rarely ends with the first battle. Relapse is common, and to watch the dependence resurface and the behaviours return is devastating. It’s like your world is imploding all over again.
What Does Addiction Feel Like?
When you can appreciate what your partner is going through, you’ll better understand the painful struggle they face when breaking an addiction. If you speak with those who have conquered their dependency on alcohol or other drugs, or have quit obsessive behaviours like gambling or overeating, they will tell you that their compulsion felt like an “insatiable hunger” or an “itch that couldn’t be scratched,” and that they would do anything for another fix. Changes in an addict’s brain chemistry can make it so that nothing feels manageable unless they are high. And along with the relentless cravings can come feelings of guilt, depression and self-loathing.
The Journey Is Long, but Rewarding
Research shows the percentage of people who will relapse in their first year of sobriety can be as high as 90%. These may seem like pretty poor odds, but it shows the journey from addiction is a long one and there will almost surely be stumbles along the way. Do not take a relapse as a failure. It’s part of the recovery process and can actually give a loved one the opportunity to learn more about themselves and their triggers, strengthening their recovery in the long term.
When you discover your partner has relapsed, you will likely feel let down, cheated and hurt, but you must focus on taking steps to address the issue. Your significant other needs your love and support. Resist any temptation to judge; instead, stand firmly beside them as they restart their recovery. Remember, however, to take care of yourself. Consider individual therapy or join a support group such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. Staying healthy is one of the most important things you can do to provide the support your partner needs.
It Is Not Your Battle, but You Are a Key Player
You cannot control or “fix” an addict. You can’t force someone to get sober. However, you are a vital part of their support network and there are things you can do to help them:
- Encourage and love them – Their addiction may leave them feeling shameful and hopeless, which is a recipe for escaping back to drugs.
- Boost their willpower – Addiction can feel like an endless loop that the addict just can’t break out of. You can be part of their reason to quit. They have done it before. They can do it again.
- Set a good example – Make sure you don’t have alcohol or other drugs in the house, and don’t drink alcohol in their presence.
- Keep them healthy – Go to the gym together or just for a run. Exercising is a natural way to stimulate the production of endorphin’s — the brain’s natural “feel good” chemicals. Also, make sure they’re eating nutritious food. A proper diet is vital to the healing process.
You and your partner do not have to fight this battle on your own. There are highly qualified doctors and therapists who have dedicated their lives to helping people recover from addiction. And if relapse happens, get help again. Many people need more than one stay in alcohol or drug rehab to overcome the power of addiction.
Relapse Is Nobody’s Fault
Finally, do not blame yourself or your partner for a relapse. Addiction is a formidable foe and the journey to sustained sobriety can take years. You may feel as though you have let down your partner or they may say it’s your fault that they relapsed. Do not fall into the trap of blame and anger. If a confrontation begins to brew, walk away. Beneath the hostility and addiction is the person you love and they need you more than ever. Do not give up hope. People have recovered from the most entrenched addictions. Your loved one can recover, too.
More Advice and Information
To learn more about supporting a loved one in recovery, check out these helpful articles from The Right Step.