How to Live with An Addict

How to Live with An Addict

Posted on September 1st, 2022 by Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C

Substance abuse is a major behavioral and mental health challenge for any person to face. And there is a whole separate set of challenges that their spouse or partner faces. People struggling with addiction need services and support to break free; their loved ones need their own form of support as well.

Living with an alcoholic or drug user is no easy task. There is chaos, there is confusion, there is a lot of pain. You are probably all too familiar with some of the difficulties this situation brings: constant arguments, emotional disconnection, financial strain, even violence. Sometimes it may seem the easiest thing to do is to leave. And yet, for many people, that may not be a viable option. So how do you live with an addict?

partner with addiction

Al-Anon, the fellowship of friends and relatives of alcoholics, sets forth the Three C’s of living with an addict: You didn’t Cause it, you can’t Control it, and you can’t Cure it. These mindsets are the foundation of making it through in one piece. Let’s explore:

You didn’t cause it

People struggling with an addiction are quick to point a finger everywhere but themselves. Their task is to finally be able to look in the mirror; their spouse’s task is to avoid believing them. Addiction is a chronic disease with many possible causes – but nobody can cause their spouse to become an addict. Every individual is responsible for the choices they make in their lives.

It might be true that your relationship is strained. Perhaps your communication with each other needs work, and there is often yelling and arguing at home. That is something to work on, but it is not the cause of someone’s choice to turn to alcohol or drugs. There are many people who have stressful home environments and do not use substances to manage!

Recognize that just as you are responsible for how you behave – towards your partner and towards yourself – so is your partner responsible for their own behavior. You cannot “make” them do anything (short of holding a gun to their heads). Taking the blame off yourself is the first step in getting your balance.

partner addiction

You can’t control it

Just as you are not to blame for the onset of the addiction, you are not to blame for its continuation. Your partner will make choices that will impact you in small and large ways, and no amount of bending yourself out of shape is going to make it any better in the long run.

You can twist yourself into a pretzel trying to accommodate your partner, to make excuses for them, to turn a blind eye to what they choose to do, but ultimately there is only so much of that you can go through while their addiction continues to run wild. Trying to manage and control their addiction takes a toll on you that makes it an unsustainable effort. You will end up drained, exhausted, resentful, and just as stuck as before (if you aren’t there already).

Recognize instead that managing the addiction is entirely in the hands of your partner. The classic AA/Al-Anon advice to turn the problem over to a higher power, whatever that is for you, has been helpful to many people. This problem is not in your jurisdiction; don’t try to make it so.

You can’t cure it

The last mindset you need to adopt is the acceptance that you can’t put an end to your partner’s addiction either. It is a fantasy that many people in this situation have – that if they could only do X, their partner would finally get out of the addiction. If only they were tidier, or yelled less, or earned more money, or provided more sex, or prevented their partner from hanging out at the bar or from carrying around cash or from any number of things, then they’d stop the substance abuse.

But it’s not the case.

The addiction will end only when the addicted party takes responsibility for their own problem. Short of that, any solution is just a band-aid on a deeper problem. (The phenomenon of the “dry drunk” is good evidence for this: people can continue to live an out-of-control lifestyle even if they are not drinking or drugging. Without the personal work to change from the inside out, the problem remains even when the substance is gone.)

So if you didn’t cause it, can’t control it, and can’t cure it – what can you do?

controlling addiction

1. Take care of yourself.

This work is super hard. Managing yourself, and unmanaging your partner, can be awfully draining. Don’t go it alone!

Al-anon and nar-anon groups can be fantastically helpful. Group support can provide massive relief – there’s nothing like connecting with other people who have been through, or are going through, the same struggles you are. Please don’t be embarrassed to go – everyone there is in the same boat as you. You will be amazed at how much acceptance you will feel – and how much that acceptance will make a difference for you.

Individual therapy is also a great idea. You have a lot on your plate trying to manage a life with your partner’s addiction. And you may well have your own mental health issues to deal with independent of your relationship situation (though your mental health certainly impacts your relationship!).

codependent therapy

Or perhaps you have your own challenges with substance abuse too. Keeping up with your own recovery is a lot more challenging when someone else in your home has an active addiction. Make sure not to lose your own gains in this area as your partner struggles.

At the same time, if both of you are committed to recovery, you can benefit from working together and encouraging each other to stay clean and sober. Some innovative programs even offer couples rehab (such as brightfuturestreatment.com) which is a powerful way of teaming up against addiction.

2. Make a safety plan.

Things are likely to be unstable while your partner is dealing with an addiction. It is wise to make a plan that keeps you safe in the event things continue to deteriorate. This means planning for what to do and where to go in case of a threat to your actual safety – if your partner becomes violent, or if your home becomes unsafe due to drug-related activities. Likewise, having a plan for who you can call or a ride service app set up on your phone in case your partner tries to drive you somewhere while under the influence.

In addition, having a stash of money in a bank account, on a debit card, or hidden cash is a good idea. You may need to have access to money if you need get away in case of danger. It may also help to keep money aside that only you can access so that it cannot b spent on drugs and alcohol.

safety plan

3. Support your partner’s recovery (but don’t manage it for them!)

Your partner is still your partner. You can love them, support them, and help them fight the addiction – so long as you are not taking over the responsibility for doing so.

So if they need you to drive them to AA meetings (and it’s something you can do without too much strain on your life), that is helpful and loving. However, if you find yourself reminding them about their meetings or trying to motivate them to go, that’s probably over the line of what you should be doing for them.

If they ask you not to order a beer when you go out to eat, that is something you can probably do for them without too much accommodation; but if they insist that you can never go out to the bar with your friends either, that might be a bit too much.

At the end of the day, you have to decide for yourself what is something easy and acceptable for you to do, and what is a major imposition that you cannot.

Be their cheerleader, not their boss! Help them spot the signs of addiction, but don’t preach. Encourage their progress; be understanding of slips and relapses (to an extent); offer direct assistance where appropriate. Your partner will gain from having you as a passenger on their journey, but not as a driver!

support a partner with addiction

Ultimately, it’s up to your partner to do what they need to do to overcome their addiction. In the meantime, you have quite a task of your own living alongside them. Always remember that you didn’t cause their addiction, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it. And remember to make sure you’re doing okay throughout. You are not alone – so don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you need it too.

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