Healthy relationships are one of the primary casualties of substance abuse. Addiction above all is a disease of isolation. Friends and family are hurt and bewildered by their addicted loved one’s self-focused and self-destructive behavior. A major task for people in recovery—and their loved ones—is forging relationships built on trust, integrity and love.
Why does addiction damage relationships? And can that damage be healed?
Alcohol and other drugs cause changes in the brain that severely impair a person’s ability to relate to others. The addicted brain is preoccupied with avoiding withdrawal and maintaining an altered chemical state.
A person with a substance use disorder will lie, manipulate and even break off contact with someone who stands in the way of maintaining that chemical equilibrium. Many addicts either are unaware they have a problem or deceive themselves and others to avoid having to quit.
Alcohol and other drugs also impair reasoning and lower inhibitions, leading to emotional and sexual abuse, violence and even criminal behavior. People with substance abuse disorders often have co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety or depression, which further isolate them.
No one is obligated to remain in a relationship with someone abusive or dangerous. Nor must loved ones tolerate infidelity or abandonment.
In all relationships affected by addiction, loved ones should lovingly detach from the disease and practice self-care by reaching out to friends, family, support groups and recovery professionals.
A major part of recovery from substance abuse is learning a new way to be in relationships. People in recovery are encouraged to be honest about their struggles, take ownership of their actions and make amends to those they have harmed. The accountability and acceptance found in support groups can promote healthy attachments and restore confidence eroded by addiction. No longer burdened by shame, people can forge more loving and transparent connections.
A quality recovery program will also address the co-occurring disorders that contribute to addiction and impair relationships.
Addiction damages relationships, but there is hope for healing. With treatment, people can become healthy—and loving—members of their families and communities.
Dr. Randal Mullings
Director of Family Services
Caron Ocean Drive
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