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When You Love an Addict: 6 Things You Should Know

All relationships go through ups and downs. It’s normal. They are made up of two imperfect people trying to make it work together. But when you add addiction into the relationship it takes those “normal” ups and downs and turns them into a wild rollercoaster that leaves you feeling like you are barely hanging on. The good times provide you with just enough hope that you start to believe it really is going to get better. But then a bad time comes and you aren’t sure what to do.

If you didn’t love them, it would be easy to walk away. But you do, so you feel at a loss of how to handle the situation. Below are 6 things you should know when you love an addict.

1. Set Boundaries

It’s important to establish healthy boundaries with your loved one. If they continue to break your trust and abuse you in any way, you do not want to continue to allow those behaviors to continue. You need to set firm and clear boundaries. Communicate them with the other person so they understand what the boundaries are and what will happen if they choose to ignore them. These boundaries are in place to protect you so it’s important that you stick to them once you have established them. 

Here’s how a boundary works. If you set the boundary that “I will not lie or ‘cover’ for you anymore,” you need to communicate that to your loved one. Tell him in those exact words that you are done covering so others won’t know what’s going on or so he won’t look bad. Then, follow through. The first time that he misses your daughter’s basketball game because of his addiction, don’t make up an excuse as to why he isn’t there. This will feel like one of the hardest things you’ve ever done especially if you haven’t set boundaries in the past, but you have to follow through if you want it to work. 

Examples of other boundaries you might want to set include:

  • I will not help you out if you are arrested or in legal trouble.
  • You will not use drugs or alcohol around me or in the house. 
  • I will not financially support the addiction or other areas of life if all their money is going to support their addiction.
  • When you are late, I will not wait to have dinner until you arrive.

2. Allow Them to Suffer Natural Consequences

When you love an addict it’s painful to see them hurting, even if it frustrates you that their actions caused the pain. This feeling, along with not wanting to be without our loved one, can lead to codependency. You don’t want to lose that person, so you cover for them and try to make their life easier. However, while you might be doing this to show love or receive love, it’s also enabling them to continue with their addiction. If you really love them, then you need to allow them to suffer the natural consequences of their choices. 

That means they could lose their job if they are always late because of their addiction. They may have damaged relationships with others because of lies they have told, or they have financial trouble because they aren’t being responsible with their money. If you always bail them out they will never experience the consequence, and the pain of the consequence is often needed to show them why they need to break the addiction and change.

3. Encourage Them to Seek Help

You can only do so much to help your loved one with their addiction. Encourage them to seek professional help. This could be meeting with a local therapist or joining a support group. Attend sessions with them if they ask you to. Drive them to their meetings. You cannot force them to go, but if they are choosing to show that you support their decision to seek help.

Along with this, look to change any behaviors you have that could make their recovery process more difficult. For example, if your loved one struggles with alcohol then choose not to drink when you are with them, so they won’t be tempted. 

4. Don’t Take It Personally

Remember that their addiction is not about you even if they try to tell you that it is. When you take their addiction personally, it can make things worse in a few ways. First of all, you’re likely to become defensive when you talk with your loved one. You know you aren’t the reason, and you want to make it clear that it’s their decisions and choices that are hurting the situation. However, defensiveness will only hurt communication between the two of you and usually cause an argument.

Secondly, if you buy into the lie that it’s somehow your fault, you will not allow them to experience their own consequences because you will want to make it better for them. Remind yourself daily if need be, their addiction is not about you.

5. Practice Self-Care

It can be easy to put so much emphasis on trying to take care of your loved one that you don’t take proper care of yourself. If this goes on for too long you will find that your own physical and mental health is beginning to suffer. Self-care is important for everyone, but when you are in a relationship with an addict it’s easy to forget about. Here are self-care habits you should stick to in your life:

  • Get enough sleep – Difficult situations are always harder to process when you are exhausted.
  • Exercise – This is a healthy way to release stress and anger as well as to boost the good endorphins in your brain.
  • Eat right – Stress causes some people to not eat enough and others to eat too much. Make sure you are eating a balanced diet, so you can feel your best.
  • Spend some time doing things you enjoy – Addicts have a tendency to make life all about themselves even if they don’t realize they are doing it. Find time to do things that you enjoy. Or, at the very least find time to get away on your own where you can enjoy silence and solitude.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to a local therapist for yourself. Yes, it can be incredibly helpful to get your loved one to see a professional, but you can only truly control your own actions and decisions. You might not be able to get them to see a therapist, but you can choose to go for yourself. A therapist can help you with your level of stress and anxiety throughout the situation and help provide you with valuable tips you can use in your relationship with the addicted individual.

6. Remember that you cannot make decisions for them.

As hard as it is to accept, you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. As much as you want the person to change, and even believe that they can change, if they are unwilling to take the steps they need to, then it might not happen. Or, at least not right now.

There could come a time in the relationship when you need to let go and walk away for your own benefit. Sometimes, this consequence can be enough to wake up the other person and encourage them to take the steps that they need, but not every time. Sometimes you just have to accept that your loved one is not in a place where they are willing to acknowledge the addiction and take steps to gain control of it.

If your safety, physical or emotional, is at risk then you need to make sure you are protecting yourself before trying to help the other person. If you love an addict, I urge you to reach out to a local therapist to seek help for yourself. 

When You Love an Addict: 6 Things You Should Know

Julie K. Jones, Ph.D., LPC

Julie K. Jones, Ph.D., LPC is the owner and director of Well Life Therapy, LLC, a private group psychotherapy practice in Middletown, CT. She and her clinical team offer a wide range of services and specialties including perinatal/postpartum support, trauma recovery, couples and family counseling, and teen/young adult assistance. She is a founding member and board member of the Connecticut Chapter of Postpartum Support International.


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APA Reference
Jones, J. (2019). When You Love an Addict: 6 Things You Should Know. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 26, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/when-you-love-an-addict-6-things-you-should-know/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 9 Jan 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 9 Jan 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.