How To Deal with Alcohol and Substance Abuse In A Relationship

I may be a dating expert, but one of the things I’m not an expert on is alcohol or substance abuse . I’ve got my 10,000 hours of dating down, but not so much when it comes to dealing with addiction. Luckily, I know an expert.  I’d like to introduce (or reintroduce) you all to Denyse Smith. She’s my mom, but more importantly, she’s an expert in the field of Alcohol and Substance Abuse. I asked her some questions about relationships and addiction and here are her insights:

One of the first signs that your partner may have an issue with substances, whether with drugs or alcohol, is deviation from their usual activities. Coming in late, unexplained missing money, increased outings with the boys/girls and so on. Another true sign of addictive behavior is that they become defensive when you ask them about these changes in behavior. People will often excuse their usage to pressure at work, finances, divorce or break-ups, discomfort returning to dating scene and so forth. When it comes to alcohol abuse, eventually people get sloppy and will have physical evidence around that indicates that they might have a problem i.e., empty alcohol bottles regularly, alcohol on their breath no matter the time  of day, things like that. When it comes to drug use you can have a partner that will disappear and return with an elaborate story of what happened (editor’s note: Think Walter White’s “fugue state” story in Season 2 of Breaking Bad). As the addiction grows so will the stories. Be on the lookout for new friends that are not part of your circle.

If your partner has an addiction/dependency problem remember that it is not your fault, at all. They probably started long before you entered the picture and it was never addressed. If it appeared to start when you entered the picture it’s possible that they were probably in remission and they just relapsed for whatever reason they had. I’ll say it again, if the develop an addiction while with you, or relapse while with you, It is not your fault.

If you believe your partner has a problem with drugs and alcohol, address it as soon as possible. One of the key points is to  avoid accusing your partner. Be sure to express your concern for their well-being as well as your support for them if they explore possible resolutions. Some ways you can address it is by saying “You know that I’ve noticed that there seems to be empty bottles in your home, are you under any stress?”, or  “I’ve noticed you have been calling out from work more than usually, does it have to do with the drinks you are having after work?”. How you talk to your partner has a lot to do with how open you both are in your relationship. If this is a new person who you don’t have much invested in, get out of this relationship. You two don’t know enough about each other, nor have enough invested in emotionally to stick around for what will surely be a messy adventure.

A relationship can weather addiction but it is very difficult. The non-addicted person would need to understand that their partner is not making a conscious decision on either drugs or their partner, but due to the physical and or psychology affects that are associated with addiciton, they are held captive by the substance. It’s not until they withdraw from the substance and break the psychological chains will their partner be able to re-engage in their relationship.

You can offer to accompany your partner to meetings, outpatient groups, psychotherapy groups, spiritual groups, remain in contact during in-patient treatment, and so on. Remember to always restate what you are willing and unwilling to do while they are recovering from addiction. Just know that dealing with addiction and addiction treatment can be a lifelong process to avoid relapse.

One of the best ways to be supportive of someone tackling addiction is by laying down rules and sticking to them. Meaning, make clear-cut ground rules and if they are broken, determine what the consequences will be and follow through. This is not attacking or forcing your partner to stop, but they will be well aware of the consequences of continued use. Most partnerships and families have blurred lines and addicts will push the limit to the point where bridges could be burned, never to be crossed again.

Be reassured that partners can and do recover together.  It’s rare but sometimes couples who are both dealing with addiction do recover together, but it’s very rare. As long as they focus on their own recovery process and are willing to openly discuss their feelings and even their desire to use substances with one another. People use substances for different reasons and are prompted to stop for different causes. If an addict wants to stop they will only have enough energy to focus on their recovery process and not their partners. It is best if they focus on their recovery processes separate and apart from each other. Hopefully they will learn some healthy activities that you can engage in together.

As far as abuse, whether mental, physical, sexual, etc., due to addiction or not, it’s still unhealthy and unacceptable. As a victim you need help. I would never advise anyone to stay in an unhealthy, harmful relationship under any circumstances. Abuse fueled by addiction can be fatal and affects the whole family.

If you love your partner, your children, your family, your friends and more importantly, yourself, there are many resources for help. Alcohol Treatment, Inpatient detox, Outpatient treatment, long term treatment for adults as well as those with children, methadone treatment, resources for LGBTQA, shelters for Domestic Violence,  Suicide prevention, and so on.

Good luck out there


About the Author

Denyse Smith is a Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) with over 13 years of experience counseling those affected by addiction, especially those in under-served/underprivileged communities. She has experience working with Adolescents, Individual and Group Counseling, Crisis Intervention, and Community Outreach. She’s a mother of 4, grandmother of 3 (the youngest grandchild is pictured with her above), and she’s way better at Pool than any of her kids (including me). 

2 thoughts on “How To Deal with Alcohol and Substance Abuse In A Relationship

  1. I’m so grateful you selected a topic on dating and substance use.It is rarely addressed but, should.It can be. Addiction is like the elephant in the room that everyone is afraid to address. Kudos.


  2. Pingback: Why am I sabotaging myself? | Tao of Indifference

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