Substance Abuse and Relationships

Any relationship has its bumps in the road, but addiction is a real road block that can cause your relationship to lose its secure attachment and pose real danger -- both emotional and physical. If you are the loved one of an addict, you may feel helpless, and torn between staying in the relationship or walking away. Many people who love addicts fear being an enabler, but also don't want to leave their partner in the cold. Substance abuse is a hard road, but with the right resources, when the addict is ready to get help you can get to the other side.

substance abuse and relationships

Approaching Your Partner 

You can’t ignore the elephant in the room when it comes to substance abuse and relationships. It’s important to acknowledge the feelings that occur when it seems that the substance is more important than you. You may be fearful all the time for your partner’s safety, or be anxious about having to adjust how you respond to your partner in fear of their mood swings. When you have been told “I will stop” more than once and it doesn’t happen, you can also lose faith and trust in your partner. Be open and honest with your partner about your fears in a safe environment. Don’t use attacking language, or your partner may just shut down. While you open up about your feelings, also be clear that you are coming from a loving place. It might help to employ the help of a counselor or marriage therapist who can help mediate the discussion and keep it on track.

Losing Your Secure Attachment

Research on emotionally focused therapy has shown that when one partner has substance abuse, a wedge is created in the relationship. It removes the partner from full engagement in the relationship, and the sober partner can’t be emotionally vulnerable because s/he doesn’t know when the partner who is using can really be counted on. As you drift from each other, one because you are abusing drugs or alcohol and the other because you feel abandoned — your secure bond slowly disintegrates.


In a study by James A. Cranford et. al, researchers found that husbands’ lifetime abuse of alcohol is directly related to a wife’s negative marital behaviors. Another study found that addictions to prescription medication can decrease the ability to function in a relationship, especially for women. Other studies also show that addictions are linked with negative relationships — a contentious marriage makes you more vulnerability to stress and could lead you down the road of addiction more than someone with a supportive marriage. All of these studies support the idea that addiction can erode your connection and ability to trust one another; most studies also point out that these impacts are felt most strongly by women.

Resources for Addicts:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (Find a Facility)

VA Substance Abuse Assistance for Veterans

Alcoholics Anonymous 

Narcotics Anonymous

California Drug and Alcohol Programs

Resources for Addicts’ Loved Ones:

Al-Anon Family Groups

Nar-Anon Family Groups

US Dept. of Health and Human Resources Recommended Resources for Families

Books for Family and Friends of Addicts

NIH: Finding Help

If you and your partner are struggling with addition in your relationship, please seek medical and rehabilitative help for both partners. Then, when you’re ready to get your secure attachment back on track, come to see me. Click below to schedule an appointment to talk.

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Call or text us at Estes Therapy

Call us at 619-558-0001 today to get started on the process. Trying to find out what might be some of the blocks keeping you from finding a partner can make a big difference.

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Jennine Estes

Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA.