Substance abuse, which includes alcohol addiction is a major problem in the United States and a major source of relationship and marital breakups.
Many issues surrounding addiction focuses on the physical and psychological effects of substance abuse. But, the effects of addiction can also have devastating effects on relationships. Even without the presence of addiction, relationships can be complex and hard to maintain, but, substance abuse and addiction can especially be damaging to relationships.
The partner who suffers from an addiction is often in denial which becomes a big problem in the relationship. The secrecy involved in using substances can lead to distance, isolation and puts enormous strain on the relationship. In addition to trust issues, anger and aggression are also common when using substances.
For the partner of someone with addiction, they may cover up for their partner, make excuses and overlook accidents and poor behavior. These partners suffer from co-dependency and have a tendency to get involved in relationships with people who are unreliable, emotionally unavailable, or needy. A co-dependent person tries to control the relationship but is unable to.
Financial issues can often add to the problems a couple is having due to substance abuse problems. Resentment usually develops when partners have a joint account and the person abusing substances carelessly spends money. Cutting off or controlling the partner who is abusing substances from the joint bank account leads to contention and adds to more problems in the relationship.
Choosing to Work through the Addiction Together
Having an addicted partner can be an incredibly intense and difficult experience which can often times lead to the demise of the relationship. Choosing to work through addiction together or to breakup or get divorced is a very personal decision and one that needs a lot of time and consideration.
Some may decide the betrayals are too great and don’t feel they could ever re-establish trust. Others may feel they want to participate in their loved one’s recovery process.
Addiction is an incurable, progressive disease but like other diseases it can be brought to remission. Substance abuse may be one of the most difficult hardships but it doesn’t have to be a permanent problem.
The Treatment Process
Treatment often takes the form of individual, marital, and group therapy. Key tasks for recovery include, first and foremost, breaking through the denial. Sometimes this requires that the co-dependent partner first break his or her own denial and also learn about the addiction process and how one goes about establishing sobriety. Then it is a matter of getting the addict/alcoholic to start a treatment plan.
If there is resistance and the denial is too severe, sometimes it is necessary to create an intervention for the addicted partner. This is a well-prepared and pre-planned meeting with a professional counselor, family, friends, sometimes colleagues from work who meet with the addicted person. The participants confront the person with the addiction and explain him or her the consequences and how they are affecting family, friends and the workplace. Usually there is a pre-arranged treatment plan that may include going to the hospital, either as an in-patient or outpatient. Hospitalization may be necessary for those who have a serious drug or alcohol addiction and who need to detoxify as the first step. After this initial phase of treatment, it is a matter of maintaining sobriety and creating a healthy environment. This is a difficult phase as there could be setbacks.
Alcoholics Anonymous, known as A.A., and the other 12-Step programs are a great resource for the addicted partner. For the partner of someone with addiction, there are Al-anon meetings where they support and encourage, and help the co-dependent partner to stop the ways he or she may have been enabling the addicted person.
Many treatments for individuals who have problems with substance abuse will include their partner in some way. Research has shown that involving partners in the treatment process can be important in helping the treatment succeed.
How Couples Therapy Can Help with Substance Abuse
Couples therapy is an important part of recovery. A partner may not be able to recognize the need for his or her involvement, but recovery is much more successful when both partners are involved and working together. If the addicted person attends A.A., and the partner attends Al-anon meetings and they are in couples counseling, the relationship is likely to stabilize and improve as they work through the difficulty they experienced when the addicted partner was engaging in destructive and unhealthy behaviors. This includes facing up to patterns of lies and secrecy, seeking and granting forgiveness.
The recovery process for the co-dependent partner comes when they eventually address their own needs instead of tolerating mistreatment or trying to save their partner. It’s important that the partner who was enabling the addiction work on changing their own patterns of enabling behaviors.
Counseling can help bring to awareness the dysfunctional behaviors, and help the couples develop new, healthier coping skills. One of the most relevant themes that they learn in counseling together includes communication and limit-setting. The focus is also on forgiveness and building a new future together. Both partners need to recognize and accept that addiction recovery is a lifestyle.
As therapists we have worked with the addicts, the partners of addicts, and the couple and we believe it is important to handle the situation with empathy, acceptance and patience. With hard work, forgiveness and the right kind of support and counseling, many couples are able to heal their relationship and create a new and healthier relationship. This takes a lot of time, patience and persistence, but a new level of trust and intimacy could be reached.