by John Santana
TRIGGER WARNING: This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about alcohol/drug addiction which may be sensitive to some people. If you are suffering from alcohol/drug addiction or need help recovering, please consider visiting them at Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) or calling them at 1-800-487-4889
You’re probably here, reading this because either you or someone you know is dating an addict. Or perhaps you’re not exactly sure, but you have your suspicions because it’s starting to look like you’re dating a completely different person than when you first met.
We’re also going to assume that you’re not one for going when the going gets tough, but let’s be honest – there’s only so much one can take. So, what do you do? Do you stay, or do you go? You love them and want to so badly believe that they love you too, but that’s becoming harder to do when they keep choosing their addiction over you and sucking you into it.
Don’t despair. While you might not be near a decision to leave them, think of us as your very own “shoulder to cry on”. We will try to help you separate feelings from facts, maybe give you some helpful options and leave the rest up to you.
Facts About Your Situation
- Dating an addict is exhausting unless you’re also one. Although, that situation is two addicts (drowning rats) in a sea climbing all over each other to survive, only to end up drowning each other in the process.
- You have choices. Love is a choice. If we have chosen to love someone, then by default we choose to put up with both the good and bad. But it is also loving to not let someone continue in their bad, and put up with it.
- Any relationship, let alone a romantic relationship and substance abuse of any kind do not go together. We are certainly not saying that you need to drop a person abusing substances like a hot potato. But we do have a couple of questions later on that we want you to ask yourself before you continue in your situation.
For now, let’s talk about a couple of other things you need to know.
The Reality of Dating an Addict
You may have started out dating a sober person, and since then addiction has developed. Or, you found yourself loving a person who is an addict. Either way, in the different stages of the cycle of addiction the relationship can be very different, leaving your head spinning and your heart shattered.
Let’s not beat about the bush. Addicts are selfish. You will never be their top priority, especially when they are actively using. Nobody expects or wants to be on a relationship rollercoaster when they start dating.
“Disease” is not an excuse
You might even feel guilty for feeling angry, hurt, or even judging them for their “disease” right? Wrong! Calling addiction anything other than what it is, does not justify nor excuse bad behavior. Every person is responsible for the choices we make. Fortunately, those in the medical profession take substance abuse and addiction very seriously and want only to help.
How to Know if You’re Dating an Addict
Romantic partners who are addicts are first and foremost the most exceptional liars. They have a lot to hide, but only for so long. Eventually, there will be mental, behavioral, health-related and social consequences.
Unfortunately, it’s always those closest to them that experience the worst of the fall-out. We have put together a list of telltale signs to help you discern whether your partner is into drug use.
These are generally the most evident. The first clues are outward appearance, demeanor and behavior.
Here’s what to look out for:
- Dramatic weight loss or gain
- Dilated pupils
- Flushed or clammy skin
- Insomnia (inability to sleep) or sleeping all the time
- Track marks from injection sites in inconspicuous places like the folds of the arms, or between the toes or fingers
- Bad skin or skin problems
- Poor personal hygiene
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, excessive sweating, shaking, etc
The ability to think clearly is completely affected when a person is abusing prescription medication or alcohol.
Look out for the following:
- Blackouts or memory loss
- Motor skill impairment
- Erratic behavior, depression and/or severe mood swings
- Lying and being secretive
- Emotionally unavailable
- Inexplicable injuries or accidents
- Borrowing or stealing money
- Neglecting and avoiding family, friends and other once-enjoyed activities
- Drinking alcohol outside of a social context at inappropriate times throughout the day
- Engaging in risky behavior
- Inexplicable work and home absences
Changes in daily life
People with substance abuse problems are completely unable to have a healthy relationship with anyone. Despite how their drug addiction completely destroys them physically and behaviorally, the primary cause for the destruction of everything else in their life is the way they treat others.
Being so completely selfish and focused on their next “fix” or high, they begin to change their entire lifestyles with this goal in mind. Here’s a few warning signs:
- They have new “friends” and never tell you where they’ve been or who with
- Disappearing for periods of time, and not being reachable
- Unwilling to commit to obligations and responsibilities
- Avoiding people they were once close with
Dating Someone “in Recovery”
Here’s some hopeful news; it is possible to have a happy and healthy relationship with someone who is in their recovery process and receiving addiction treatment. A recovering addict who is in this place in their life is also know as someone who is in remission.
Such a person might never go back to a life of drug use, but they will be the first to acknowledge that they have the potential for relapse and so will be honest with you about the fact that they are forever in recovery.
Questions to Ask Yourself
We hope that you’re closer to clarity on whether or not you’re dating an addict. Now that you’re standing at a potential crossroads regarding your relationship, here are a few questions you need to ask yourself:
- Is their history of drug addiction a deal-breaker for you?
- If not, does the person have treatment options, treatment programs and/or local resources to help them (and you) in their quest to stay clean?
- If not, and they relapse, are they willing to seek and receive immediate help? Are you willing to go through this with them?
- Are you or have you been caught up in enabling them?
- Can you with a clear conscience say that you have done everything as far as you are able to help them and be emotionally available and supportive?
- If yes, and they show no signs of wanting help, or changing, then are you prepared to cut your losses and move on with your life?
- Are you willing to not let guilt cloud your thinking? Are you willing to accept that you are not responsible for their choices?
What to Do When Dating an Addict
Let’s assume you’ve decided to stay (for now), or you’ve found yourself in this situation and you want to continue to try and make it work, here are some hopefully helpful guides for you:
Create healthy boundaries
This might sound counter-productive, but it’s not. Trust us. For the sake of your and your partner’s mental health, and if you want to co-exist with them in the long-term set boundaries are going to be necessary.
These boundaries could be:
- Don’t lie to me
- Don’t steal from me
- Don’t get high around me
- Don’t make me an accomplice
If they are not prepared to respect and adhere to these boundaries, then we encourage you to consider that staying with them is enabling behavior.
Don’t be an accomplice
Previously we mentioned that a boundary could be them not making you an accomplice, but often when we feel sorry for someone or fearful for them to experience the extreme consequences of their drug addiction, like committing crimes and answering to the law – then you, are in fact, an accomplice.
Get relationship counseling
Simply the very best advice to give anyone with an active addiction, or to someone who is dating that person – is to get help. Often, and outside, objective professional help you to better manage issues and go a long way towards your partner’s recovery.
Therapists play an important role in addiction treatment. They help you to create and manage boundaries, keep your discussions and disagreements constructive, provide a safe space to air your grievances, and help you get clarity.
Get professional help and support
There are so many excellent treatment programs for your addicted partner. Addiction counselors are well-versed, trained and experienced in dealing with the mostly extremely difficult reality of a person struggling with addiction.
We highly recommend that the both of you get individual therapy at an addiction treatment center. They have an entire staff of professionals wanting to help, and most insurances will pay for these treatment programs.
Know when to walk away
When your drug addict partner keeps overstepping your set boundaries, we strongly recommend that you consider leaving. At some point you need to look to your own needs. People struggling with addiction often display addictive behaviors.
These are destructive to healthy relationships. Often walking away is one of the most important steps in the right direction for your partner to realise their situation and get the help they need.
A professional can help you determine if your decision is rational, and help you do it safely and properly.
Is Dating a Drug Addict Dangerous?
You’ve seen how the media portrays addicts and heard stories of abuse caused by substance use disorders. Sure, they can lead to violence and neglect, but not all cases of substance abuse are dangerous. Not everyone who has substance use disorder — a drug addiction — will be violent.
However, we’ll be remiss to tell you that nearly 80% of domestic violence cases are related to substance abuse. So, even though the odds are largely stacked against you, if you insist on dating an addict – at least you know what to likely expect.
If your partner’s struggles with substance use is not a deal breaker, and you would like to give your relationship a shot, then more power to you. Just remember, your partner is going to need tons of support to get them off the drugs, healthy and into treatment with a good recovery program.
You and your loved one are going to need support groups. This means family, friends and national institutes like narcotics anonymous and alcoholics anonymous. Can we say it again? Support groups. Your partner will need ongoing support to stay sober and free from drug abuse or alcohol addiction.
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