How to Be There for an S.O. Struggling With Addiction
There are a lot of conversations that you simply need to have with your partner if you’re planning on sticking together long-term, including ones about money, family drama and mental health. Another really important one? Addiction. You might not think that it’s something you need to bring up, especially if it doesn’t seem to directly affect you, but if you have even the smallest concern about yourself, your partner or someone you’re both close to, it’s worth a discussion. While addiction — to shopping, gambling, video games, alcohol or drugs — isn’t the easiest thing to talk about (huge understatement), it’s worth raising the subject with your partner to get your feelings and concerns out into the open.
How to bring up an addiction problem
Depending on why you want to talk about it, addiction can be a bit awkward to discuss. If you or someone close to you has had problems with substance abuse in the past and you want to let your S.O. know about it, share whatever you’re comfortable sharing, and be ready to answer their questions if they have any. If you want to bring up your concern that your partner may be struggling with substance abuse problems of their own, one way to broach the subject is to ask if they’ve ever considered a therapist, says Sarah Osborne, director of clinical operations at Mountainside Treatment Center, a drug addiction treatment center in Connecticut.
“If the usual chaos of addiction is there, even without the admission of having an addiction, it’s likely that there’s other stuff going on with them as well, like other behavior patterns that might warrant seeking professional help. As this person’s partner, you can recommend they see a therapist for those other issues, which can ultimately open the door for addiction recovery as well,” Sarah says.
How to ACT TOWARD a partner with addiction
At the end of the day, there’s no major difference in how you should treat a partner with addiction from how you would treat them if they weren’t struggling with it. This goes for all people in your life who are working through addiction, whether they’re a friend, family member or acquaintance.
Of course, being kind and compassionate are musts, but another person’s addiction is their issue to make decisions about, so you shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about what they’ll do (as hard as that may be). It sounds counterintuitive, since they’re probably the person you worry the most about, but unfortunately, you don’t have a lot of control over how their addiction makes them behave.
Why self-care is so important
Sarah emphasizes that as an S.O. of someone struggling with addiction, there are specific impacts you might feel. These include financial problems, emotional exhaustion and making too many sacrifices for the well-being of your S.O. “Self-care is the most important thing you can do to support a partner — whether or not they’ve admitted their addiction to you, themselves or anyone else. If you’re very wrapped up in someone else’s issue, you risk not taking care of your own life and your own needs, including normal everyday things like paying bills or your own health and hygiene,” she says.
Essentially, you must be healthy, both mentally and physically, if you want to really help your partner. “Addiction is enmeshing,” she continues, “and your life can become very much ‘one’ with the addicted person’s. You need to keep yourself whole, otherwise you could lose who you are to your loved one’s addiction.”
If you’re unfamiliar with addiction but need to deal with it
For people who’ve never had to deal with addiction before but are now thrust into the world of recovery, there are some amazing resources available to help you build a support system. “Open Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings are for anyone interested in attending a meeting. This would give you the opportunity to hear firsthand what others have experienced in addiction. ALANON meetings are specific to family members and significant others who are supporting those with addiction,” Sarah says. At ALANON, you’ll be able to talk to people who’ve experienced the same challenges you’re dealing with and learn what they did to get through them.
The most important thing to know about those struggling with addiction
One major thing to remember about people with addiction, according to Sarah, is that they often feel very alone. “They may feel that no one quite understands what they’re going through or what they’re thinking,” she explains. “This can be extremely isolating for someone just coming to grips with their issue.” Helping to guide your partner to a 12-step meeting like AA, or connecting them with someone who has experience with addiction treatment in general might be a good place to start, even if they haven’t yet admitted their problem. Just getting them there can be helpful, because they get exposure to people who are going through something similar. “They’re able to see for the first time that they’re not, in fact, alone,” Sarah says.
KNOW THAT It’s okay to walk away
You may wonder if it’s okay to end a relationship with a partner with addiction since they’re likely to be emotionally vulnerable, but Sarah explains that it definitely is. “It’s always appropriate to step away from a relationship if you need to,” she says. How can you know it’s time? “One signifier of when it’s time to walk away is when the things you need to do to make the relationship work are no longer healthy or when the normal limits of what you would do are pushed.” For example, providing your S.O. with money when you normally wouldn’t, supporting them completely financially or being their emotional go-to for every little problem that arises. Additionally, “Staying with someone long-term who’s in the chaotic state that comes with addiction and who doesn’t want to change can be bad for your own health.”
Sadly, there’s no easy fix
Unfortunately, addiction is one of those things that people deal with over the course of their lives, not just for a short period of time. Often, people wonder if there’s a shortcut to recovery. “People want an easy answer on how to fix someone and make them better,” explains Sarah.”But the truth is, letting someone experience the natural consequences of their behavior is the best way you can help them.” People with addiction have to want to get better, and if they don’t, you shouldn’t expend too much effort trying to get them there.
Have you ever talked to someone close to you about addiction? How did it go? Tell us about it @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)