How to Live with and Love Someone who is an Addict: Diane’s Story
They’re not junkies. They are husbands and fathers suffering from a chronic disease. At least that’s what the books said. But Diane didn’t get it. How could someone choose a substance over his career, his health, his wife … over his own son, over and over again? It didn’t make sense and she was tired of trying. Her husband had fallen off the wagon several times and was now a danger to himself and his family. He’d lost jobs, lost his car and was now about to lose her. It all started three years ago when Peter, her husband of four years, didn’t come home one night. She was worried sick. He showed up in the morning: blood shot eyes, scruffy, tired and groggy. He said he’d been out drinking and apologized. Diane let it pass. She knew her husband. No way it could happen again. No way. She was wrong. Two weeks later Peter disappeared for three days, then five, then a whole week. It became a habit. Each time Diane was worried, dreadful and confused. She didn’t know where her husband was, who he was with, whether he was in trouble and whether he was ever coming back. It was five months before Diane discovered a secret stash of methamphetamine buried under layers of dirty clothing in her husband’s sock cabinet. She confronted him. He confessed and promised to change. She believed him. They found an outpatient rehab for him and he got admitted. For five months things went back to the way they were. Then he relapsed. This time, it was more than just meth. She’d find pills, pot and bottles of alcohol strewn all over the house. Then there’s what she couldn’t find: the extra change in her purse, her credit card, her jewelry, even some household items were missing. Peter was pawning them off to get money to feed his meth addiction. For the last three years Peter’s life has oscillated between rehab, normalcy and relapse. A vicious cycle and Diane has lived through it all. Sadly, this isn’t an isolated case. Drug and alcohol addiction is a real problem in American homes.
Alcohol and Drug Abuse in America and Colorado by the Numbers
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 2015 substance use report:
- 20.8 million Americans aged 12 and above had a substance use disorder
- 15.7 million people aged above 12 had an alcohol use disorder
- 4 million people aged above 12 had a marijuana use disorder
- 2 million people aged above 12 had a disorder relating to pain killers
- 896,000 people aged above 12 had a cocaine use disorder
- 872,000 people aged above 12 had a methamphetamine use disorder
- 591,000 people aged above 12 had a heroine use disorder
- 426,000 people aged above 12 had a stimulant use disorder
Every addict has someone who loves them and cares for them. For these people, finding ways to cope with the rigors of drug addiction can be flat-out overwhelming.
Tips on How to Love Someone with a Substance Addiction
1) Learn as much as you can about addiction
Read books, articles and journals. Learn about how drug abuse is a chronic disease. Learn how drugs interact with brain cells, altering the brain’s chemistry and affecting its perceptions of risk and reward, happiness and sadness. Understanding the physical and psychological effects of drug addiction will help you stop pointing fingers. You’ll understand that your partner’s addiction is not because of his laziness, lack of willpower or stubbornness. You’ll also learn that it is not because of you. You’ll stop thinking, “Can’t he see what he’s doing to the family?” or “If he loved me, he’d stop.” You’ll see that addiction is a chronic disease that just can’t be wished away. It takes time and effort. Addicts need continuous therapy and medical support. Recovery is a constant work-in-progress.
2) Don’t be too excited about rehab
When your partner joins a rehabilitation program, the feeling of renewed hope can be immense. Finally, things will go back to normal. However, it may take long before an addict recovers. He may need to be admitted for more than 90 days and even afterwards, he may need to enter a sober living environment. When the addict is finally released, he may still need to take medication or attend group therapy sessions. You may need to support him in his recovery. Rid your home of any alcohol and intoxicating substances. If you enjoyed going to social events where alcohol and tobacco were present, you may have to consider new activities to do together such as bike riding, gardening, visiting museums, hiking, camping and traveling. Unfortunately, the risk of relapse will always be there in spite of all his efforts and all your support. This is because addiction is never really “cured.” It is merely given a “temporary reprieve, one day at a time.” There is no single magic pill to treat substance abuse. Keep focusing on the work that is recovery. It is a long term process and people do make mistakes. However, it is worthwhile in the end.
3) Find peers with addicted family members who understand
Living with a recovering addict can be stressful. It can even take its toll on you physically, emotionally and psychologically. Long term disappointment can breed resentment which can destroy communication channels between partners. According to a study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, connecting with peers going through the same thing will help you lower your stress levels, improve your psychological health and cope better with an addict. Programs such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon provide 12-step support for families of alcohol and drug addicts respectively.
4) Private therapy for partners of addicts
You too need therapy. A study of 100 family members of alcohol addicts reported high levels of stress, depression and poor health among the participants. Many were worn out from caring, supporting and being patient with their loved ones. Private therapy will give you an open, non-judgemental platform to open up and share your worries, fears and frustrations with a professional. You’ll learn stress-relieving therapies such as meditation. You’ll do group work to uncover and resolve deep emotional issues such as insecurity so that you can live freely knowing you do not have to depend on others for fulfillment and that you are not responsible for the poor decisions of your partner.