Those with substance use disorders often struggle with personal relationships. One study concluded that for a number of reasons, those with substance use disorder avoid intimacy out of fear due to negative experiences of attachment to others. It is often said that the opposite of addiction is connection, and those struggling with substance use disorder are often lacking that sense of connection to others.
What Does Intimacy Look Like?
Intimate relationships are not limited to romantic partnerships. Intimacy speaks to closeness, familiarity, and vulnerability – necessary elements of any close friendship, family tie, or partnership. For someone with a substance use disorder, important elements of intimate relationships can feel difficult or impossible to experience.
Trust – Those in close, intimate relationships are able to develop a sense of trust over time. They are able to build this through routine experiences where someone does what they say they will do. Those with substance use disorders are often unable to trust others or sometimes even themselves. Often the effects of the substances used make it impossible for someone with the disorder to keep their word even when they intend to. As a result of a fear of intimacy, those with substance use disorder may inadvertently choose friends or partners that are not trustworthy or capable of doing as they say. What a person with substance use disorder often experiences in place of trust is a sense of betrayal.
Security – Individuals with substance use disorders often experience fear of abandonment; this may be due to experiences as children or teens. In a healthy intimate relationship, someone’s continued presence creates a sense of security, a feeling that they are committed to being in each other’s lives. People in intimate relationships express themselves with vulnerability and need to be met with a sense of security about being authentic and accepted. If a person suffers from a substance use disorder, they often push others away in an effort to avoid being vulnerable. Fear of being accepted and of abandonment often causes them to create situations where a person will meet and reinforce their negative expectations.
Selflessness – In an intimate relationship, the closeness of two people creates an “us” attitude rather than a “me” attitude. It gives people a sense of being able to face the world with trusted companions, knowing they will not face difficult situations alone. Most people with substance use disorders are afflicted with self-centered thinking, often having developed that out of situations where they had no one but themselves to rely on. The inherently selfish thoughts make it difficult to rely upon other people or be relied upon themselves.
Mutuality – This feature of intimate relationships deals in having common ground, reciprocal feelings, and shared experiences. There is a sense of safety found in having those that are in close relation share similar feelings and opinions. Substance use disorder sufferers struggle to relate to the world around them. They often isolate and believe they are unique in their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This makes it difficult to allow space to experience mutuality with others and keeps a person feeling alone in the world. This population also experiences a lack of self-worth, and it may be hard for them to accept that someone could care for or value them. The idea that someone could have mutual feelings is often unbelievable.
Affection and Care – In intimate relationships, people feel cared about as they are able to give extensive knowledge of themselves to another and receive it in return. Each person needs to meet that knowledge with love and respect in order for the other person to continue to share. Also found in intimate relationships is openly expressed love and affirmation, creating a sense of reciprocal value. Substance use disorders often rob a person of their sense of self; and if one feels disconnected from themselves, they cannot open up and share it with another. They may struggle to ask for what they need and believe that even if they do, their needs would not be met.
This list is a long and yet not an exhaustive look at the ways that intimacy, and the fear of it, can challenge someone with a substance use disorder. When someone turns to treatment, they are able to heal some of the fears and issues that make intimacy so frightening. They are able to turn away from selfish thinking, identify and relate to others, and practice trusting other people by practicing vulnerability. Therapy is also often suggested depending on the root source of the fear, and things like dialectical behavioral therapy can help treat problems such as attachment and abandonment issues. It takes time and dedicated work to help heal past wounds and develop intimacy in relationships, but the work will be worth it.
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.