We don’t talk about it enough. If a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, their partner, friends, and family (including therapists and doctors) will primarily focus on the physical and psychological aspects of the person’s addiction. And it’s only natural. You don’t tell a person who has been rushed to the hospital for appendicitis: “Let’s talk about feelings. I want to understand the emotional sphere behind your abdominal pain and how it affects our relationship.” All you want is for them to feel better physically. “Don’t you die on me!” Still, when we love a person with substance abuse disorder, the emotional layer that binds us often takes the back seat as we fixate on the issues we see first. The truth is, all parties hurt equally. It’s a lose-lose situation. Preserving a healthy, functioning relationship tainted by addiction proves to be unattainable. So, how does addiction affect relationships?

Love is not enough

No beating around the bush; we’re going straight for the jugular. No matter how deep and strong the bond (parent-child, child-parent, the love of your life, brother-sister, best friend since childhood), any addiction-driven relationship is subject to becoming a crumbling pie. As the affected person sinks deeper into addiction, their dependency on the substance inevitably reflects on their mental and physical state, while their priorities restructure due to chemically-altered “wiring.” From severe mood swings to impaired cognitive function, the longer the addiction lasts, the graver the consequences. Once the character and behavior patterns change, no relationship is spared.

Alt. text: a man holding his head in confusion

How does addiction affect relationships? It eats the trust away


Trust and respect are hard for substance abusers. It’s not that they want to harm the relationship and break your trust; it’s simply out of their control. When the affected person needs that fix, anxiety sets it; to an addict, it’s like deep diving with sharks, but only with the help of their lung capacity. They need that oxygen tank. And they’ll do anything to get it and fight off the blood-thirsty jaws. It’s full-throttle panic. It’s survival mode. So, they lie. They become secretive about their whereabouts; they steal from the people who love them. As a result, the other party involved feels disrespected, hurt, and often afraid. Realizing the person you once knew isn’t the person standing in front of you, not being able to rely on them, trust them or share your worries and feelings becomes an unbridgeable abyss.

Intimacy lost

Romantic relationships with substance abusers are an avalanche, inevitably leading to parting ways.
Partners are witness to:
● rapid mood swings (withdrawal symptoms)
● frequent episodes of depression
● decreased sexual ability
● alienation
Being intimate requires staying connected and being present. Broken trust and neglect take a toll on the most delicate part of any romantic relationship. Substances can cause erectile dysfunction in men and low sex drive in women. Without sexual intimacy, relationships become fragile, igniting feelings of guilt, shame, and anger. The addiction becomes the primary focus for the substance abuser, leaving their partner questioning their self-worth. Physical, emotional, and psychological abuse is common in romantic relationships, inescapably leading to its prologue.

Violence is not a stranger.

How does addiction affect relationships? Unfortunately, up to 60% of domestic violence reports are related to substance abuse (in the U.S. alone). Not to say all users are violent, but long-term addiction affects the user’s cognitive functions, making them more prone to sudden outbursts of aggression towards their partners, friends, and family. Unable to obtain their relationships, the frustration builds up, leading the person under the influence to articulate their anger in intimidating and unpredictable ways (especially during the withdrawal phase). While the user’s irritability causes disruption, their loved one can decide to fight back and express anger both physically and verbally, causing additional escalation.

Victimization is common with substance abuse disorder.

Victimization is common with substance abuse disorder.

The silent enabler

When you love and care for someone struggling with addiction (whether it’s your son, girlfriend, or friend), saying no is difficult. But saying no also bears consequences. You’re silently encouraging their habit by lending money for “food,” “clothes,” “bills,” smiling and waving goodbye as they jump in the back of their addict friend’s car, making excuses for their troubling behavior and taking on their responsibilities. By turning a blind eye and steering away from potential conflict, you’re saying: YES. Keep on doing what you’re doing; I’m okay with it. The next step is to choose a treatment center that could help your loved one fight the addiction and get their life back on track. They need help. But it would help if you had some, too. You need to find the right fit. Treatment centers such as Bright Future Treatment Centers is one of the many, that can help you on the path to healing.


Like a moth to a flame

Codependent personality types are incredibly compatible with people who struggle with substance abuse. It’s symbiotic, making it that much harder for the codependent person to either quit enabling the user or leave. As much as the user needs the codependent person, the codependent one needs the user just the same. It’s a match made in hell. Nobody wins. This might be one of the most detrimental effects of addiction on relationships (not every addict has a codependent counterpart), as it damages both parties equally (especially their emotional and mental health). The enabler feeds off the user’s need for their care, making it a vicious cycle.

Taking action

When we say action, we don’t mean finding a pro-bono kidnapper and flying them with a chopper to a treatment center with a hood over their head. A successful intervention takes time. It requires understanding and seeing the bigger picture. All the angles. 360′, HQ. Do they have a depressive episode? Or are they in a manic phase? How do you approach them? Who will be there to give them support? What if the intervention fails? Asking for advice from a professional (doctor, mental health provider, therapist) before staging an intervention is a way to ensure it goes as planned.

Love is not enough, but with a little push, it just might be.
We hope you find our thoughts on how addiction affects relationships helpful. You are not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.