Relationships and marriage can be complicated and stressful, and addiction or alcoholism aren’t always problems that are apparent at the beginning of a committed relationship. In some relationships, addiction is a problem that develops after months or years together, or the problem may have been there all along but your partner hid it from you.
It doesn’t really matter what your partner is addicted to. Whether he or she is an alcoholic or is addicted to street drugs, prescriptions drugs or gambling, the nature of addiction usually leads to the same results. The addict is consumed with pursuing the drug of choice above all else. The drug matters more to him than you or your kids do.
You may barely recognize the person you fell in love with. If your partner once was a loving and supportive person who took care of the family, now he seems to have forgotten all about you. He may lie or sneak around. He may use bill money for drugs or alcohol, or steal from you. He may have mood swings or disappear for hours or days on end.
What do you do if you love an addict?
Avoid denial. Don’t pretend that there isn’t a problem. Face the fact that something is wrong so you can decide what you need to do next.
Learn about addiction. Addiction is an illness, and living with the disease of addiction requires that you understand what you’re dealing with. Your loved one is probably not deliberately hurting you. He has lost himself to something that is bigger than he is.
Learn about codependency. The longer you live with addiction, the more likely that your own behavior has been affected. You may fly into a rage, have panic attacks or have difficulty controlling your emotions. You may obsess about what the addict is doing to the point that you can’t focus on your own life or goals. Those who love addicts often develop a disorder themselves. It’s called codependency. The more you know about this disorder, the more hope there is that you can learn new behaviors.
Participate in support groups. Even though you may feel like you’re completely alone with your problems, that’s far from the truth. There are many support groups where you can mingle with other people who truly understand what you’re going through. Groups like Alanon will help you feel less isolated, and will help you learn how to live with the disease of addiction. If the addict is willing to go into recovery, attend open AA meetings when you can so that you can learn what is required for the addict to stay sober.
Avoid enabling behavior. One of the things that you need to learn is how to avoid enabling behavior. Enabling is doing things for the addict that allow him or her to continue addictive behavior without consequences. Examples include bailing the addict out of jail or calling his boss to make excuses. Although your partner’s addiction isn’t your fault, you may be contributing to the problem by helping him avoid facing the consequences of his actions.
Set a bottom line. When the addict or alcoholic isn’t ready to get help, there is probably a negative impact on your life, which could include financial problems, physical or mental abuse or a sense of being neglected. Only you can decide when enough is enough and you can’t take it anymore. Set a bottom line, a time or place that you won’t compromise, and stick to it.
Take care of you. Whether or not the addict goes into recovery, and whether or not you decide to remain in the relationship, the most important thing you need to learn is to take care of you. You didn’t cause the problem with addiction, you can’t control it and you can’t cure it. But what you can do is keep the focus on yourself and work on your own behavior and your own reactions. Self-care will give you the strength to leave the relationship if you have to, or stay strong through the bad times so that things may eventually work themselves out.