When Addiction Enters Your Relationship
When you promise to stay together through sickness and health, you don’t expect that your relationship will someday be torn apart by drug addiction. But unfortunately, it’s a reality for many couples today. According to The New York Times, more than 2.5 million Americans abuse opioids, either in the form of prescription painkillers or heroin. Millions more admit to using prescription painkillers not prescribed to them. It’s an epidemic that shows no signs of slowing, and families are feeling the impact.
From recognizing the problem to getting your loved one into treatment, there’s nothing easy about living alongside opioid addiction. The best you can do is be informed, stay aware, and know when and how to take action.
Recognizing the Signs of Addiction
You think the signs of opioid addiction would be obvious—track marks, a strung-out appearance —but the reality is addiction often goes undetected for long periods. This is especially true when prescription painkillers, not heroin, are the drug of choice. In a study from Michigan State University, 32 percent of respondents couldn’t identify the symptoms of prescription drug misuse.
So what should you look out for? Watch for these warning signs of opioid abuse:
● Drowsiness, lethargy, or nodding off
● Mood swings or hostility
● Intermittent nausea or flu-like symptoms
● Constricted pupils
● Unexplained financial issues
● Missing valuables
● Lying and secrecy
● Exceeding a painkiller’s prescribed dosage
● Using prescription painkillers prescribed to another person
● Empty pill bottles in the garbage
● Doctor shopping or seeking prescriptions from multiple doctors
The Dangers of Enabling
When it comes to drug addiction, many families confuse support and enabling. It’s true that the two can look very similar, but there’s a key difference. Enabling protects the addict from consequences, thus making it easier to continue along the path of addiction. This could look like giving cash or items that can be sold, repeatedly bailing them out of legal troubles, and making excuses for their behavior.
However, you can support without enabling. Let your partner clean up their own messes and deal with the consequences of their actions, but learn how to administer naloxone in case the worst happens. Listen without judgment when they need someone to talk to, but set boundaries and don’t accept mistreatment. And when they finally are ready to get help, be there and guide them to the resources they need.
You can’t force someone to heal from drug addiction, and unfortunately, many addicts hit rock bottom before choosing to make a change. And even when the desire for recovery is sincere, relapses are common. Nonetheless, you should take attempts at recovery seriously and help your partner access professional treatment.
Effective treatment for opioid addiction typically involves medically supervised detox followed by an inpatient or outpatient treatment program. Treatment may include behavioral counseling and medication. It’s important to understand that recovery is a lifelong process that requires ongoing support, and as helpful as treatment programs are, they’re not a quick fix.
Addiction may be your partner’s sickness, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t affected too. After all, it’s you who has to live alongside the unpredictable behavior, the run-ins with the law, the dwindling bank accounts, the infidelity, and the fear of overdose—not to mention the pain and betrayal of seeing the person you love most choose drugs over your relationship.
Counseling can help you and your partner work through the damage addiction has done to your relationship. However, it’s also important to put your own needs first and know when to walk away. If your partner refuses to seek treatment or denies the problem, and the addiction is affecting your ability to live a healthy life, separation may be the right choice. If you’re not ready to completely part ways, legal separation gives room to heal while leaving open the possibility of repairing your marriage after recovery.
There’s nothing easy about seeing the person you love fall victim to addiction. And for many people, the hardest part is feeling helpless against the addiction. While you can’t force someone to quit using drugs, you can make a difference by knowing the signs, saying “no” to enabling, and being ready to help when the time comes.
This article was written as a guest post by Constance Ray of Recovery Well.