How Relationships Influence Addictive Behaviors

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An intimate relationship is a constant interplay of fulfillment and responsibility. Both members of a romantic bond must be able to contribute to the relationship and each other. When substance use is added into the equation, this exchange can quickly become unbalanced. As a relationship with drugs or alcohol begins to invade a person’s priorities, interpersonal relations are undoubtedly strained.

What experts say

In her 2004 essay, “Disorders of desire: addiction and problems of intimacy,” Helen Keane, Ph.D., proposed that to better understand how addictive disorders relate to interpersonal instability, people need to view problematic substance use in different light. Keane explained, “It is not the objects of addiction that determine the condition, but a particularly intense and rigid relationship between the addict and her substance or activity of choice.”

In his 2013 article entitled, “When Substance Abuse and Intimacy Issues Are Linked,” Robert Weiss, LCSW, recounted relying on his experience in the field due a lack of research on addiction and intimacy. From his years of seeing patients, Weiss has noticed the undeniable prevalence of co-occurrence between substance and relationship-based problems. In further, he recommended that treatment providers address these comorbid conditions simultaneously to ensure the best recovery outcomes.

According to Psychiatrist David Sack, M.D., an addict’s significant other cannot magically solve dependency issues, but he or she can ignite the desire to change. Sack stated, “You don’t have control over the addict, but you do have influence. It is often an intervention, an ultimatum or a refusal to enable that leads addicts to take the first step into recovery.”

Warning signs of a loved one dealing with addiction

William Fals-Stewart, Ph.D., of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) outlined the warning signs of addiction within a relationship:

  • Continual conflict about drinking, drugs, or consequences of substance use (financial problems, staying out late, not fulfilling household responsibilities)
  • Making excuses to coworkers, friends, or family members to hide a partner’s substance use
  • The partner justifies drinking or drug use to reduce stress caused by arguments and fights
  • The relationship’s activities revolve around substance use
  • Incidents of domestic violence while a partner has been drinking or using drugs
  • Substance use within the relationship has caused isolation from other loved ones





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