Substance use, also known as Addiction leads to a significantly damaging impact on relationships, whether it’s with a romantic partner, family members, or peers.
Substance use disorders can cause many issues that can lead to broken trust, fear of vulnerability, and breakdowns in communication. Addiction to substances, including prescription medications and Alcohol are two of the leading causes of psychological pain which lead to patterns of self destruction, resulting in the sabotage of relationships with loved ones.
A person relying upon Alcohol and/or drugs/pills begins to exhibit subtle changes in their physical appearance. Weight loss or facial bloating and/or reddening can be a visible sign, however substance use disorders are sinister in nature and often do not have layers revealed until someone’s tolerance level becomes further dependent upon the substance. One of the more common negative effects of Addictive disorders is the change in cognitive functioning.
Addiction results in significant changes in a person’s moods, behavioral patterns, and choices. Forgetfulness, false promises, verbal outbursts, increased irritability and aggression, low distress tolerance and even violence are some of the changes in which are noticed by loved ones of a person addiction to substances. Those struggling with addiction may become distant, emotionally unavailable, and may prioritize their substance use over their relationships. This can lead to feelings of abandonment and loneliness for those who love them, which can cause a significant strain on the relationship.
Because substance use disorders gradually impair a person’s functioning, it is often met with denial and defensiveness upon gentle confronting from loved ones. When a person is under the influence or in ‘active addiction’, their decision-making skills, concentration, focus, task completion, and executive functioning all become negatively effected; resulting in patterns of self sabotage, misunderstandings, increased interpersonal conflicts, and eventually – the inability to address and resolve issues, which leads to the deterioration of relationships.
Substance use almost always results in the loss of trust from loved ones due to a person’s patter of dishonesty, stealing, misleading, or cheating to obtain drugs and/or alcohol. These patterns result in emotional turmoil and disappointment for those who love and care for the person in active addiction. Once trust has been broken and lost after repetitive episodes of betrayal, trust feels impossible to rebuild and will require patience and consistent efforts on the addict’s part.
Substance use disorders can also cause financial issues, which can affect the dynamics of a relationship and/or romantic partnership. Substance use disorders can be expensive to maintain, and those struggling with addiction may prioritize their substances over personal financial obligations or contributing to the household financially. This can lead to arguments, stress, and ultimately the breakdown of the relationship.
Substance use disorders can also lead to physical and mental health issues, which can further impact relationships. Those struggling with addiction commonly neglect their health and in fact, place themselves at higher risk of health complications leading to chronic illnesses and/or injuries, which can place a significant burden on loved ones. Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, are also common in those struggling with addiction, which can cause them to isolate themselves from their relationships and become emotionally distant.
Chemical addiction to alcohol, medications, and illicit drugs also effects family dynamics, particularly when children are involved. Children of those struggling with addiction commonly feel neglected, perceive being unloved, or experience trauma due to their parent’s maladaptive choices. Many children of addicts develop traits of codependency, resulting in unhealthy relationships and fear of abandonment in romantic partnerships. This can lead to long-term emotional and psychological issues for the child and can cause significant damage and estrangement to the parent-child relationship.
While it can be challenging to navigate the complexities of substance use disorders, there are ways to support loved ones struggling with addiction while still maintaining healthy relationships.
Communicating fears, concerns, and needs with a person in active addiction can feel defeating and may lead to further disparagement of the relationship. Oftentimes, a person under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is incapable of receiving support due to the changes that have transpired in their mental faculties. Brain changes often lead to distorted perception and can create feelings of defensiveness. Many individuals in active addiction are not ready for change and deeply struggling with an internal tug of war of vacillating feelings of shame and frustration with themselves. Professionals can assist with meeting the person where they are and helping them feel safe to ask for help, without fear of judgement.
Family and couples therapy can be particularly helpful for those struggling with addiction and their loved ones.
Therapy can help improve communication, rebuild trust, and provide a safe space for individuals to express their feelings and work towards recovery together.
In order to navigate a loved one’s Substance use, it is imperative to explore your own patterns of codependency in order to ensure that you do not lose yourself in their relationship with addiction. Professional help is available in order to assist with developing awareness and insight into patterns of enmeshment and tendencies to rescue others. Individual therapy is a healthy starting place to restore a sense of individual focus on the self, rather than the person struggling with addiction.