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How Alcohol and Drug Addiction Affects Relationships

Addiction and Relationships

Many discussions surrounding addiction tend to focus on the physical and psychological effects of substance use. The effects of drug addiction, however, extend beyond these issues and also encompass a person’s social health and well-being. Social health refers to an individual’s relationships and the ability to maintain healthy, rewarding connections. Social health and a healthy support system are correlated strongly with an individual’s success, self-esteem, and happiness in life.

Unfortunately, substance abuse and addiction can damage social health. All types of relationships—family, friendships, and romantic relationships—can be put under enormous strain when someone becomes addicted.

The Elements of Successful Relationships

Even without the presence of addiction, relationships are complex issues that take work to maintain. Successful relationships:

  • Use honest, assertive communication based on respect.
  • Are fun and rewarding.
  • Have the goal of compromise, trust, and understanding.
  • Have an absence of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, as well as violence and aggression.
  • Can thrive with times of individuality and times of togetherness.
  • Allow all members to feel good about themselves.

The Damage Associated With Addiction

When addiction enters the mix, many of the elements that make for successful relationships become much more difficult to maintain. Once a substance user progresses from occasional use to addiction, they are likely to have a single focus: obtaining and using the substance.

Since relationships often cannot compete with the euphoric experience of substance use, the user will typically put less time and energy into maintaining the relationship, allowing various damaging elements to begin to surface.


Someone who begins using alcohol or other drugs excessively may not be outwardly open about their use due to strong feelings of shame, guilt, and fear of judgment. They may think others will not understand or accept the situation, which breeds a tendency to be secretive with their loved one. They may lie about:

  • Where they are.
  • Who they are with.
  • The events of the day.
  • Why they are behaving differently.
  • Why money is missing.

At times, secrecy will increase to the point of complete distancing or isolation. This can put enormous strain on any relationship.

Trust Issues

With the increased lying and deception associated with secrecy, it is only a matter of time until the significant other begins to notice differences between fact and fiction.

The loved one may begin to develop trust issues due to a perceived lack of respect, honesty, and loyalty. Trust is essential to feelings of safety and care in a relationship and reduced trust often leads to the emergence of a number of relationship-damaging issues, such as jealousy, anger, fear, and resentment.

Anger and Abuse

Anger and violence can become concerns as a relationship deteriorates. Frustrations will be high, but if someone is using a substance that is known to cause aggression, the situation may be even more dangerous. Drugs known to increase anger, irritability, and violence include:1

Living with an addict or alcoholic can put the loved one at greater risk of victimization. Additionally, the loved one living with an alcoholic or addict may experience an increase in their own frustration, causing them to express anger or act out violently against the substance user.

If you are experiencing domestic violence in your relationship, you can always reach out to a domestic violence hotline. There are also free alcohol and narcotics abuse hotline numbers available to help with addiction.


Anger is not the only way that substance abuse can impact the user or a loved one. At times, in a flawed attempt to help the addict, a loved one will become an enabler. Enabling includes:

  • Taking on responsibility for the behaviors and feelings of the addicted loved one.
  • Working hard to minimize negative consequences.
  • Accepting blame.
  • Making excuses.

A classic example of enabling is providing money on a consistent basis so that the user is able to retrieve drugs. He or she may ask for money for gas or groceries, and while their loved one may suspect it is going on drugs, they provide it anyway. The line between helping and enabling is often extremely difficult for those who love someone struggling with addiction to discern.


Codependency shares some traits with enabling. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), codependent people:

  • Control others because they do not think the other person can function independently.
  • Have low self-esteem and overly focus on their loved one.
  • Are willing to compromise their own needs, wants, and beliefs to keep their loved one calm and content.
  • Are very cautious and aware of the emotional changes of others.
  • Maintain loyalty and commitment to their loved one despite a lack of reciprocation.

Codependent individuals often get involved in relationships that are one-sided. Someone who is codependent may be frustrated by the needs and actions of their addicted loved one but may also feel a compulsive need to take care of that person. The codependent needs the addict as much as the addict needs the codependent. Their identity may become wrapped up in a “martyr” role, feeling compelled to “serve” or “sacrifice” for their partner, yet simultaneously acting to fulfill their own needs for attachment and closeness. Codependent relationships typically involve their fair share of enabling, as the caretaker figure will often try to cover for the addicted individual or resolve their issues instead of allowing them to face the natural consequences of their substance use.

Irreparable Relationships

A loved one may find it too challenging to modify their behaviors as outlined in individual or family/couples’ counseling. They may begin to acknowledge that they are causing more harm to their significant other. Likewise, the person with an addiction may realize that continuing to be in this relationship is too destructive to the other person or themselves.

If a decision has been made to end the relationship, consider these tips to move forward in the safest, most effective way:

  • Make a plan to ensure safety if domestic violence is a factor. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your support network or other forms of support and safety, like your local police station or a domestic violence hotline.
  • Share your plans for moving on with people you trust for support.
  • Seek continuous social support during and after the breakup.
  • Be clear, concise, and consistent with your communication.
  • Be wary of promises for change and forms of manipulation. Remember to look out for yourself first and do what will benefit you most in the long run.

Repairing the Damage

Addiction Treatment Options

Individual therapy for the addicted individual. Ending substance use is the first key element in repairing the relationship. It will be very difficult to begin or maintain a functional relationship during a period of active addiction. Addiction counseling and psychotherapy will allow the individual to gain a better understanding of the impact of substance use on their mental, physical, and social health—in addition to learning coping mechanisms for substance use and developing healthier interpersonal skills.

Couples counseling

Individual therapy for the significant other. The non-addicted person in the relationship can also benefit from therapy by:

  • Gaining education surrounding the nature of substance abuse and addiction.
  • Understanding their role in relationship struggles and patterns.
  • Addressing their own mental health and “self-care” needs related and unrelated to the addiction.

Family/couples’ counseling. Family/couples’ counseling can be very helpful, as both partners can simultaneously learn and practice skills that promote a more desirable relationship.

Support group meetings—such as 12-Step programs—for both individuals. People in healthy relationships are able to function well together and apart. Support groups are a good way to spend time apart while still being in an inviting, empathetic environment. For the person in recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and SMART Recovery are good options. For the loved one, Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous, Families Anonymous, and others are available.

Regardless of the form of treatment, several relevant themes will be crucial to the future of the relationship, including:

  • Communication. Certain care must be taken to engage in productive communication that shows a level of respect. The communication should be encouraging, clear, and concise. A reciprocal exchange of thoughts and feelings is the goal. Active listening with good eye contact in a calm, distraction-free environment will increase the productivity of the conversation.
  • Limit-Setting. Unhealthy relationships frequently involve poor or absent limit-setting. Limit-setting involves a clear description of expectations and the consequences of specific actions. Equally important is follow-through and consistency. If a loved one says that continued substance use is unacceptable but continues to tolerate the actions, the limit is negated. Limits require consequences in order to be effective.

Receive 24/7 text support at your convenience with American Addiction Centers. Our team is well prepared to advise on all things treatment and help you find the care you need. We’ve helped thousands recover from addiction and we can help you too.

Find Addiction Treatment Programs

You may wish to seek inpatient or outpatient therapy for your relationship concerns. SAMSHA’s Find Treatment tool can help you locate individual, group, and couples’ therapy near you. Remember, if you love someone with a substance use disorder, it is important not to neglect your own needs. Support groups for loved ones of individuals suffering with drug and alcohol addiction can help you build a network of people who understand and learn how to care for yourself as you navigate this difficult journey. Support groups include Al-Anon and Nar-Anon.

Rehab programs are located throughout the U.S., and many offer specialized treatment that can cater to individual needs. Many state government websites will provide local drug and alcohol resources to those in need. To find your state government’s website, do a web search for your state name and ‘.gov.’ Once your state website is located, substance use resources shouldn’t be hard to find, and they should provide further phone contacts for your assistance.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of addiction treatment programs and has trusted rehab facilities across the country. If you or someone you love is suffering with addiction and looking for help, please call our confidential advisors free at . We can help provide you with options for finding an appropriate drug addiction treatment program. Be sure to ask if the treatment program provides couples’ counseling or family therapy if you are looking to work on both your relationship and your addiction.

American Addiction Centers maintains a strong partnership with a large group of insurance companies at our addiction treatment facilities. Start the journey to recovery and find out instantly using the form below if your health insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies.

Health Insurance Coverage for Addiction Treatment

Find out if your insurance coverage includes addiction rehab and treatment by visiting the links below:

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