Substance Abuse and Intimate Relationship: 3 Ways to Help When Loving Someone Struggling With Addiction

Drug addiction has a profound impact on both the person struggling with addiction and those around them. In addition to the physical and mental health issues that frequently accompany addiction, substance abuse can take control of virtually every aspect of a person’s life. This includes their relationships with family, friends, and intimate partners. Long-term intimate relationships are often difficult to maintain for people living with addiction, and substance use can become a frequent source of conflict that causes their partner to suffer.

While drug abuse takes many forms, opioid addiction has become a national crisis in the United States. It’s estimated that roughly 128 people die each day from an opioid overdose. Opioids can include prescription pain medication, illegal substances like heroin, or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Physical dependence and addiction are common consequences of opioid abuse, and in addition to the health concerns that come with this, heavy opioid users have been associated with a significantly higher crime rate compared to users of other substances. This can easily lead to criminal records that can show on a background check and create further problems later in life.


Staying in a relationship with someone struggling with opiate addiction is taxing, and it can sometimes feel hopeless or even like you’re enabling your partner. While there’s certainly no easy way to deal with it, there are some things you can do to help your partner and yourself.

1. Understand What Addiction Is

Physical drug dependence and drug addiction are often used interchangeably, but they aren’t the same condition. Recognizing this is key to understanding your partner’s condition and helping them through it. Like with other drugs, opioid dependence occurs when the brain and body change to adapt to the constant presence of the drug. Once the person stops taking the drug, withdrawal symptoms start to set in. Early withdrawals from opioids can include anxiety, muscle aches, and sweating. Later symptoms are more serious and can include a rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, abdominal cramps, and extreme nausea. A person is considered dependent on opioids if they need a constant stream to hold off withdrawal symptoms.

Opioid addiction is a more long-term condition that can have negative psychological and physical effects like preventing a person from being able to consistently control their behavior. In a case of addiction, the need to use drugs overpowers a person’s ability to make sound decisions. Unlike some other forms of addiction, which are considered behavioral issues, opioid addiction is the result of chemical reactions in the brain.

2. Encourage Treatment


One of the best things you can do for anyone suffering from substance abuse is to help them acknowledge their problem and guide them toward the treatment they need. While 12-step programs and meetings may work for other forms of addiction, an opioid detox is likely the best option for heavy opiate addiction. Rapid detox programs basically put a patient under general anesthesia with medical supervision to flush the substance from the patient and reduce the severity and length of withdrawal symptoms. The Waismann Method of rapid opioid detox involves the patient staying in a private room, usually for two to four days, while the detox occurs before being transferred to a recovery center for aftercare. An advanced rapid detox program gives patients the best chance at avoiding complications and staying free of addiction.

3. Support Without Enabling

Naturally, it’s always important to support your partner in an intimate relationship, but it can be hard to do this for a partner with addiction without feeling like you’re enabling them. It’s important to set boundaries detailing unacceptable behaviors and to follow through on the consequences of your partner displaying these behaviors. It’s never acceptable for your partner to abuse you or someone you care about. It’s also important to hold your partner accountable for their responsibilities and to avoid making excuses for them if they don’t keep up. Finally, remember to take care of your own needs as well. Neglecting yourself or constantly placing your partner’s needs above your own won’t help either of you.

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