Addiction and Relationships

Estimated reading time: 33 minute(s)

 Relationships are an important part of everyday life. These relationships help people get through the most difficult times in life in addition to celebrating their victories. Unfortunately, most relationships are very delicate and vulnerable to various setbacks, one of which includes addiction.

When most people talk about addiction and its consequences on daily life, they only take into account the physical and mental health of the victim. However, as experts keep exploring the issue in detail, we now know it can equally affect relationships, sometimes to the extent that it causes irreparable damage and even permanent breakups. Learning about addiction and relationships and how these two factors affect each other is imperative if you are in a relationship with an addict or are about to get into one.

How Addiction Affects Family and Relationships

Relationships with addicts are never pleasant and come with many issues and problems every step of the way. Following are some behaviors commonly observed in relationships involving addicts that may contribute to their downfall.


A partner who starts abusing alcohol or drugs excessively may not be open about their use, especially in the beginning. They may feel shame, fear, or guilt and feel that others may not understand or support their situation. As a result, many of them become secretive and lie to their loved ones about many things, such as the following:

  • Who do they hang out with
  • Why do they behave differently
  • Where they are
  • Why have they started spending more money
  • The daily events

These secretive behaviors may continue to progress until the addict gets into complete isolation after distancing themselves from every friend and family member. Remember that addiction or no addiction, secrecy in any relationship can wreck it.

Lies and Distrust

As an addict partner resorts to secrecy to keep their substance use hidden, their behavior may not remain concealed from others for a long time, and their loved ones may eventually begin to notice the difference between facts and fiction. Following the constant lies and fabrication, these loved ones may form trust issues, mainly due to a lack of respect, dedication, and honesty from their addict partner.

Violence and Anger

As a relationship continues to deteriorate due to one or both partners using alcohol o drugs, violence, and anger may enter into the picture very soon. In such relationships, frustrations are usually high, especially if someone uses something known to trigger aggression. For such people, even simple everyday situations may become triggering and lead to violence.

Living with an addict can, therefore, put a loved one at a very high risk of victimization. They may be vulnerable to experiencing anger or violent acts from their partner. However, such people must remember that violence under any circumstances is unacceptable, and they must seek immediate help if they believe their life is in danger.

Enabling Behaviors

Sometimes, the loved ones of an addict become an enabler by trying to support their addictive behaviors. Some examples of these enabling behaviors may include the following:

  • Making excuses
  • Accepting blame
  • Working hard to minimize the negative consequences of their loved one’s addiction
  • Taking on the responsibility for the feelings, behaviors, and actions of an addicted loved one.

One common example of how a loved one may enable an addict is by giving them money they can use to buy alcohol or drugs. Alternatively, they may try to provide explanations to their loved one’s employer for their long-term absence due to addiction.


Codependency is similar to enabling; however, such people often engage in one-sided relationships. Such people are overwhelmed by their addicted partner’s needs but always feel like they have to take care of them. A codependent partner:

  • Is willing to overlook their own needs and beliefs and want to keep their addict partner content and calm
  • Needs their addict partner with them as much as their partner needs them
  • Maintains loyalty and commitment to their loved ones even if their partner fails to reciprocate the same
  • Is extremely cautious and aware of others’ emotions
  • Need their partner as they believe that they cannot function independently without them
  • May enable their partner’s addiction to make them stay in a relationship

Mood Swings and Irritability

Someone who is struggling with addiction may experience intense emotions, which may be difficult to manage, leading to irritability and mood swings. These emotional changes can negatively affect relationships, leading to arguments, tensions, and physical or verbal abuse. In the long run, the irritability and mood swings secondary to addiction may cause:

  • Strained communications: When someone is experiencing mood swings or irritability, they may become defensive or lash out, making communication difficult. This lack of communication causes disagreements and leads to further misunderstandings.
  • Emotional detachment: It is common for someone struggling with addiction to withdraw from their partner and enter loneliness and isolation emotionally. Their irritability and mood swings can also make it difficult to connect with others, leading to relationship breakdown.
  • Raised tension: Addiction can cause frustrations and tensions in both the addict and non-addict partners, leading to a hostile environment full of arguments and a high level of discomfort.
  • Negative impacts on mental health: The constant mood swings and high irritability due to addiction can negatively affect the mental health of both partners. An addict may experience depression and anxiety episodes, while the other partner may feel overwhelmed and helpless in the current situation.

Addiction Recovery and Relationships: How to Make Mends

Relationships with drug addicts are not ideal and may make the partner feel like they are always walking on eggshells. Contrary to what most people believe, such relationships often have a chance of improvement; however, it may require persistent effort, perseverance, and dedication from both parties.

If you and your loved one are tired of the ongoing addiction and relationship issues and wish to overcome this problem and start afresh, seeking professional help seems like a sensible idea. For this purpose, the following types of treatment may make a difference:

Individual therapy for the addicted partner

Ending the ongoing cycle of addiction is the first key element to achieve for anyone wishing to save a dying relationship. Initially, it may seem impossible to seek addiction help while maintaining a functional relationship. However, addiction psychotherapy and counseling under the supervision of trained professionals can help individuals develop insights into their ongoing problems and understand their effects on their mental, social, and physical health. Moreover, individual therapy can also help them learn healthier coping mechanisms to manage stress while acquiring better interpersonal skills.

Individual therapy for the non-addicted partner

The non-addicted partner in a relationship can equally benefit from therapy. Individual sessions with a qualified professional can help them gain education about addiction and how it affects a person. A therapist can also help them understand their role in their relationships and learn how to take care of the relationship without neglecting their own mental health.

Family/Couples Counseling

Family or couple counseling can be extremely helpful for all affected parties as they can learn to work on their common issues and promote a desirable relationship.

Support Group Meetings

These support group meetings can also benefit both individuals as these groups allow them to spend time with each other in an empathetic environment. Some examples of these support group meetings include Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, and Narcotics Anonymous. Some separate groups are working for family members, such as Codependent Anonymous, Families Anonymous, etc.

Regardless of the type of treatment or format a person chooses, several themes will be central to include in them to save the relationship, such as the following:

  • Communication: Experts must take special care to engage both partners in productive communication while maintaining a good level of respect. All communication must be clear, concise, and encouraging with the goal of promoting a reciprocal exchange of feelings and thoughts.
  • Limit-Setting: One of the most prominent features of an unhealthy relationship involving addiction is poor limit-setting. The limit setting must involve a clear communication of both parties’ expectations and a discussion of the consequences of specific actions. Always remember that limits always require consequences to be set; otherwise, they may become useless.

Drug Addiction and Relationships: What to Consider Before Ending a Relationship

The choice to remain in a relationship with an addict or end it is purely personal and depends on several circumstances. Many people may find it difficult to decide when to end things and whether or not there is any hope left in reviving their relationship. Some questions to keep in mind and explore before you finish your connection with an addicted partner include the following:

Is your partner willing to change?

If your partner is willing to take full accountability for their actions and shows a strong commitment to join a rehab and break their addiction cycle, there can be a possibility to maintain the relationship and help them recover quickly and effectively.

Are you enabling your partner?

Many partners continue to enable their addicted loved ones without even realizing it. These enabling attitudes are very harmful as they never let the addict consider themselves accountable for their actions. If you believe to be the enabler in your relationship and cannot stop being one, it may be a better idea to end things.

Are you giving more to your relationship than your addicted partner?

In many instances, the partners of an addict put way more effort into maintaining their relationships than the other party. This may leave them feeling underappreciated, isolated, and drained. If you believe to be one of these people, it may be better to consider ending the relationship altogether.

What will happen if you stay in the relationship?

If you feel like staying in a relationship with an addict can worsen their condition, it may be better to end the relationship altogether. A similar decision may be wise when you feel there is not enough scope for improvement.

Is the relationship negatively affecting your children?

If your partner’s addiction has started affecting your children’s mental health and daily lives, it is imperative to struggle for a change. If the partner shows no sign of achieving sobriety or making the family life better, consider ending things for the children’s sake. It is the parent’s responsibility to provide their children with a safe and healthy environment to grow up. If you fail to deliver it due to the partner’s addiction, moving away is the best option to consider.


What elements of a successful relationship does an addiction destroy?

A successful relationship is one that:

  • is rewarding and fun
  • use assertive and honest communication based on mutual respect
  • allows all members to feel positive about themselves
  • can flourish with times spent individually and together
  • has an absence of sexual, emotional, or physical abuse in addition to aggression and violence
  • has the goal of trust, understanding, and compromise

Why do people stay in relationships with an addict?

There are plenty of reasons why an individual may choose to stay in a relationship with an addict, the biggest one being out of love. Another reason they may not leave is the fear that a breakup will only cause additional problems. For example, a non-addict partner may believe that if they end a relationship, their partner may dig deeper into their addiction and do something drastic, such as suicide. Lastly, many people may avoid leaving such relationships no matter how toxic they are because they fear loneliness and believe that if they end things, they may not be able to survive on their own.

Can treatment help people in relationships with addicts?

Fortunately, many treatments are available to help a couple where one or both are addicted to one or more substances. Some of these treatments may focus on individual counseling, while others provide both parties to heal and recover together. Hence, people stuck in relationships involving addiction must seek help and support from relevant facilities and give their relationship a chance before considering ending it.

Get in Touch for Help