The signs of addiction differ for everyone. Some are more subtle than you think. Maybe you’ve noticed your partner displays some unusual behavior. Or there are financial issues such as unpaid bills or a sudden unexplained shortage of funds. Perhaps your partner’s moods are unpredictable—and even frightening. It’s vital for your own and your partner’s wellbeing to understand addiction, the importance of setting boundaries, and how to get help for both of you.
Addiction as a Brain Disease
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social, and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.”
Too often, people consider addiction as a moral failing, but this is one of many myths and stigmas involving the disease. Yes, the choice to use substances to excess was usually, at first, voluntary. And yes, some people struggling with alcohol or drug abuse make bad choices, and are frequently involved in circumstances that may cause relationship, legal, or financial trouble. However, scientists continue to reinforce that a chemical addiction doesn’t happen due to a lack of character or willpower, or an unwillingness to stop. Once a person’s physiology changes with substance use, it takes focused, individualized treatment to correct it.
Medical News Today provides a detailed list of different psychological, social, physical, and emotional symptoms of addiction use disorder. This should help you reflect on what you’ve noticed with your partner and if they need help.
As someone who cares for a person struggling with addiction, it’s imperative to understand that your love alone isn’t what will save them—or that your addicted partner doesn’t love you because they haven’t stopped using. Approach the problem as any other chronic health condition, with the assistance of professional guidance and boundaries to protect yourself.
Why Set Boundaries?
Here’s when the process of helping an addicted partner seems a little murky. If it’s best to evaluate addiction clinically and not judge the person, why are boundaries necessary?
Because we’re all still human. As such, we have feelings and thoughts that arise from our fears, devotion, insecurities, love, past traumas, memories of better times, and other issues. It’s okay to be compassionate, but you have to be firm, too, so that you provide help without enabling. Because we also have a right not to be threatened, taken advantage of, lied to, manipulated, or abused in any way.
You didn’t cause the addiction, and you can’t control it—but you can reduce your pain. The boundaries you establish help provide a foundation for you to care for yourself first, then your partner.
- First, evaluate your safety. If for any reason you’re concerned that your partner might harm you or other family members in the home, contact Georgia’s Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-33-HAVEN.
- Understand what codependency means. Codependency is a common dynamic in relationships with an addicted partner. If you’ve often justified or hid their behavior, taken on additional responsibilities, made apologies for their behavior, and other actions, it’s time to see a therapist. They’ll help you move past the learned behavior of codependency and into a healthier space to deal with the problem.
- Be decisive with what you will and won’t accept. What behaviors or actions cross the line? Is your partner demanding money? Causing problems with the family? Not going to work or holding down a job? Stealing? Abusing substances around your children? Detail the problems and plan to have a conversation with your partner about them.
- Make clear, definitive statements. Because we know and love the person behind the mask of addiction, it’s easy to change our minds about troubling issues. Again—be compassionate, but firm. Outline what you won’t allow, such as: “I love you, and want you to be healthy. If you choose to seek treatment for substance use, I’ll be here to support you. If you choose to keep using drugs or alcohol, I won’t accept the following behaviors….”
- Determine if you have to walk away. This is probably one of the most challenging aspects to accept when evaluating your relationship with an addicted partner. Psychology Today outlines some ways to navigate the situation before making this decision.
You might find it helpful to join a support group to learn how others handled similar circumstances and were able to support their loved ones without supporting their addictions:
Working with a counselor who specializes in addiction therapy is also a wise choice to help you formulate boundaries and plan your next steps.
Seeking Professional Treatment
You can ask your partner to attend a 12-Step meeting, see a physician, or get professional help. But what happens if they’re in denial about their addiction, or outright refuse?
- Arrange for addiction counseling. Various support groups have resources that help couples discuss the problem with a neutral third party to determine if they can agree to a treatment arrangement.
- Talk with an interventionist. This expert can help you create a plan of action that addresses the problem.
- Call the admissions team at our inpatient treatment facility. We frequently provide consultations for family members on how to best help their loved ones.
The staff at Willingway considers the family’s role in recovery to be an essential component to an individual’s successful sobriety. You’re not alone in this journey—for more than 45 years, our family has helped families just like yours.