A substance use disorder has the incredible power to shape and change lives, it has the ability to change loved ones profoundly and can leave a path of destruction. There are some that experience these changes quickly, but for others, this may be a slow process that happens over many years. When your partner is someone affected by a substance use disorder the experience can be a difficult process to endure; knowing where to draw the line between support and boundaries can be painful. Keeping oneself well and putting your emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical safety first is important but not always easy when a person who is held dear is struggling. Is it possible to love someone through a substance use disorder?
Love Me, Love Me Not
An important thing to keep in mind when considering substance use disorder is the profound way substances can alter the way a person behaves. Not only does it have the ability to affect a person’s mood and conduct while they are under the influence, substances have long-term effects on brain function as well. As it influences and shifts the balance of the parts of the brain that control stress and reward centers, it shifts the behavior and mood more consistently. Over time, those affected by substance use disorders must use an increasing amount of substances to simply feel “normal.” For the partner of someone who is affected by substance use, this can have a deep and profound effect on the relationship as their significant other becomes increasingly depressed, irritable, angry, and unmotivated. Furthermore, as these changes in the brain happen and behaviors shift into seeking substances with more frequency simply to feel well, their attention to things in their lives, such as work and relationships, declines. It leaves their partners feeling less loved and cared for, as it’s difficult to not take these changes personally. In addition to whatever emotional fallout that happens as a result of a substance use disorder, there is an emotional toll that must now be endured by the partner as they struggle to feel loved and prioritized by their partner.
There is no medical cure for substance use disorders, but individuals can find freedom and recovery through treatment and recovery programs. A relationship between someone who is not affected by a substance use disorder and someone who is, often becomes increasingly difficult and emotionally unhealthy over time. Just as with parents that have children who suffer from substance use disorders, individuals feel that if they can offer enough love and support that this will be the turning point for their loved one. This constant giving by one party that is often only met by taking from the other can be extremely mentally and emotionally taxing. Most who suffer from substance use become less and less like their former selves as they battle the progressive nature of the illness. Boundaries are important to maintain health and well-being when a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder.
Drawing the Line, Even When it Hurts
It is the wish of many who love someone that struggles with substance use to preserve their relationship with them. Setting boundaries or walking away from the individual can bring about a profound sense of grief, loss, anxiety, and sadness. However, it is paramount for the person affected that those in their life stay away from enabling behaviors. Those who are affected by substance use often rely on those around them to hold their world together when the consequences of the disorder begin to create trouble in their lives. The longer that they are able to keep treading water, the longer it might take them to reach a turning point and seek help. Boundaries are frightening to set as there is fear that rather than understanding why certain things will no longer be acceptable, the person may choose to walk away. Setting boundaries is necessary, not only to keep from enabling a partner but to preserve one’s one well-being.
Boundaries are different for every situation and should be carefully considered before a conversation ever takes place. Seeking the advice of others is important, especially those who have other types of relationships with the individual. It’s important to look at any behaviors that are abusive – emotionally, physically, financially, or otherwise – and set firm boundaries disallowing these things to continue. There are times when set boundaries do not require communication, however, when it comes to a romantic partnership it may be best to set direct, firm expectations for behavior going forward. Having a support system for accountability in upholding these boundaries is also important, as it is difficult to see a loved one suffer and there is a desire to save them from harm. Love takes different forms and for the person with a substance use disorder, the most beneficial kind of love helps them choose the path of recovery.
Loving someone who is suffering from a substance use disorder can be painful setting healthy boundaries can be difficult and choosing to walk away or love someone from a distance can feel impossible. If needed, seek the help of a professional to assist in walking through the emotional upheaval caused by a partner’s substance use disorder. Hope is a powerful thing. It is important to remain hopeful that taking the necessary actions can help guide them to a life of recovery.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at 800-799-4673.