How can Substance Abuse Lead to Relationship Problems?

Are drugs coming between you and your loved one? How did this happen and what does it mean?

Maybe you knew he or she was an occasional recreational user when you began the relationship, but it didn’t bother you. Maybe you did a little bit of social drinking or drug use yourself at the time. But now your partner is using substances more than what you’d consider “from time to time.” It’s starting to look like an addiction. The craving for the substance quickly becomes the most important thing in your partner’s life, disrupting the normal balance of your relationship. He or she becomes irritable, emotionally distant, defensive… Any dispute could even become abusive. The American Journal of Public health cites a link between drug abuse and emotional and physical abuse within a couple. Your daily life becomes, as one woman put it, a “juggling act between love and drugs, between happiness and utter devastation.”

If your partner is a substance abuser, he or she will choose drugs over you.

Addiction changes the way the brain functions. When drugs enter the system, they cause inflated levels of sensation in the brain. To make things feel more normal, the brain shuts down a number of its dopamine receptors. Over time, the drugs become less and less effective at achieving the user’s desired effect as the brain becomes less responsive due to dramatically lowered receptor levels. The reward pathway in the brain starts to rewire itself to adapt to the drug. This effects the regions of the brain responsible for things like judgment and decision-making. These brain changes cause the drug-seeking behavior to become like a reflex for your loved one. A drug addict is thus “hardwired” to crave the effects of the substance. The craving for the drugs becomes more important to your partner than you are.

Not sure if drugs are a problem in your relationship? 5 warning signs:

If even just one of the following warning signs sounds familiar to you, it’s best to seek the assistance of a licensed professional as soon as you can. Don’t let things get worse because you’re afraid or embarrassed. It is very rare that this kind of relationship problem will get better over time.

  1. Frequent arguments about substance abuse or related issues, like financial troubles, unexplained absences, neglect of family responsibilities
  2. Having to make excuses for your partner for his failure to show up for work or other commitments due to the effects of drug use or alcohol
  3. Your partner admits to drinking or doing drugs to escape from stress caused by problems in the home (especially to reduce stress after fighting about substance abuse)
  4. He or she needs to be high to show affection
  5. Your only shared activity is drinking or using drugs

Can WE recover?

Treatments for individuals recovering from substance addiction will frequently include their partner in some ways. Getting involved, as recommended by a therapist, in your partner’s addiction recovery treatment is often a way to make the recovery more successful. However, it is important to remember that relationship problems should also be treated by a professional. Just because the substance abuse may stop, there is no guarantee your relationship will be problem-free.

Drug problems come with a host of other problems for couples, particularly communication and trust issues. Just like the chemical changes in the brain of someone suffering from an addiction, the changes in your relationship will last for some time. But with persistence, love, and professional support, your relationship can be on the way to recovery.