Getting Out From Under: What to Do If Your Partner Continues to Drink or Use

Eight Identified Categories of Drinkers

Whether your partner has gone through rehab or continues to make promises that are never kept about cutting down his or her use of alcohol or drugs, you know the sinking feeling when you come face to face with the reality that the situation isn’t going to change. Now you’re faced with a tough decision. While you’re contemplating getting out from under, it’s important to know what to do if your partner continues to drink or use.

Weigh the Specifics 

If there are children involved, you’re likely more willing to stick it out for their sake. Whether this is a sustainable approach depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is whether your partner is a “mean” or violent person when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The safety of you and your children has to be paramount and is never something to overlook or excuse. If verbal and/or physical abuse takes place, you really have no other option but to safeguard you and the children, using whatever strategy you’ve worked out for such an eventuality.

Not every person who continues to drink or use is going to be violent or abusive. But this doesn’t mean that the home environment is healthy or provides the kind of structure and stability that the family unit requires. If anything, it’s just the opposite. You and your children may tiptoe around your partner and their parent, fearful of causing anything that results in an argument, upsetting behavior, threats, name-calling or other verbal and/or physical action.

Ask yourself what patterns you’ve noticed about your partner’s drinking or drug use (or other process addiction such as compulsive gambling, compulsive sexual abuse, compulsive shopping or workaholism, to name a few). Does your partner try to hide his or her behavior, construct elaborate lies to try to deceive you, or go out of his or her way to pretend everything is just fine — when you know it’s absolutely not?

What are the emotional ramifications of a partner who keeps using? What are you not doing now as a result? Are you holding your tongue? Do you fear what might happen and tell yourself this is only temporary, that your partner isn’t all that bad, or that staying in the relationship is the only way to proceed?

Have financial repercussions occurred as a result of your partner’s continued drinking or drug use? Have the negative consequences continued to mount to the point where there are some serious repercussions that threaten the family’s survival?

The specifics of your situation are critically important to weigh. Depending on what you come up with, you’ll be better able to adjust your approach to your partner’s substance use — or make the tough call to leave the situation altogether.

Get Support for Yourself

No matter what you ultimately decide, you need to get support for yourself. This is readily available in the family component groups of the self-help or 12-step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (Al-Anon for adults and Alateen for teens). You may not have a problem with alcohol or drugs, but you have a partner who does continue to use. These groups are for the loved ones of those who are in recovery or who continue to use, offering encouragement, support and help. It’s important to know that there are others who understand what you’re going through. Sometimes that alone is enough to help you as you weigh your options and decide what to do to get out from under.

These family groups do not offer counseling, but they do provide a safe environment in which to hear the accounts of others, to share what you’ve experienced, to get feedback and suggestions. For many, such family support groups provide the much-needed perspective in order to make difficult decisions, figure out effective coping strategies and designing a long-term plan of action to deal with a partner who continues to use.

Become Educated About Addiction

 You need to know what you’re dealing with, and this requires acquiring as much knowledge as you can about your partner’s specific addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a chronic brain disease. It doesn’t go away on its own and there is no cure. But people can learn to manage their addiction by going into treatment, learning coping strategies and committing to living a healthier lifestyle. Sometimes, especially if there is a co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorder (such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and others), or multiple addictions (alcohol, abuse of painkillers, other illicit drug use), ongoing counseling will be required.

Learn what the signs and symptoms of a particular addiction are and what the effects of chronic use are both physically, emotionally and mentally. What treatments are effective? Then find out which treatment centers offer the kinds of therapy your partner may need. Does your insurance cover the treatment or are there facilities that have sliding-scale or other alternative payment options?

Will an Intervention Work? 

If your partner hasn’t been to rehab and appears unwilling to entertain the idea, if the situation of his or her alcohol and drug use is getting out of control and the ramifications have increased in severity and consequence, you may want to consider arranging an intervention. This is best conducted by a professional interventionist who can often be convincing enough to get your partner into treatment. That’s really the end goal of an intervention. It isn’t just bringing up all the bad things your partner has done as a result of his or her addiction that’s caused harm to you and the family. It is that, but it’s also an opportunity for your partner to recognize and accept that his or her substance use has to change, that treatment is the best option and to agree to accept it.

Not every intervention will result in the person going into treatment. Some are adamant they don’t have a problem and refuse to go to rehab. Others say they need more time, that they’ll think about it. These are just excuses and, frankly, if the intervention doesn’t result in your partner going into treatment, there’s nothing you can do about it for now.

During the intervention, among the things you’ll need to be prepared to state are the consequences of continued alcohol and drug use by your partner. After you’ve explained how his or her continued use has harmed you and the family, you will need to say that you’re not OK with this behavior and that you will no longer enable such use. It isn’t so much an ultimatum as a loving and heartfelt statement of the facts. This behavior is not sustainable or tolerable. How far you go with stating the potential consequences will be your decision. A professional interventionist can explain further what happens in an intervention and how to best prepare for it. Keep in mind that if nothing else has worked, this may be the best scenario to get your partner into rehab and become committed to sobriety.

Will You Stay or Go?

Ultimately, you cannot force your partner to change or even go into rehab. The decision has to be his or hers. You can, however, be supportive and steadfast in your encouragement — without being a nag. In the end, the decision to stay with your partner or to end the relationship for now will be yours alone to make. In the desire to get out from under if your partner continues to drink or use, you have to do what makes the most sense, what feels right and what you are comfortable doing. The more you educate yourself about what you’re dealing with and learn what options you have, the more likely you’ll make the right choice for your particular situation.

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