What to do if you realize your partner is an addict

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When most people think of addiction their mind will immediately go to someone who’s a drug addict or alcoholic. These are usually the most obvious addictions.

Someone who’s stoned, high or drunk a lot will give away many telltale signs. Many of these are blatantly obvious such as they are always reeking of alcohol or their eyes are always bloodshot from smoking marijuana.

But even with alcoholics and drug addicts it can be difficult to spot. This is because people for reasons ranging from their own pride to the fact that many drugs are illegal will try to conceal their use.

This could involve hiding bottles around the house to attempting to mask the smell on their breath by frequently chewing minty gum. But if it involves another addiction such as work or gambling it can be even more difficult to see the problem.

What is addiction?

Some addicts will not even realize they have a problem – at least not for a long time. Other addicts will be in complete denial.

So what is the definition of addiction? Addiction is the seemingly uncontrollable desire to use or do something to alter the way someone feels and/or to block out something, such as trauma or toxic shame.

As well as alcohol and drugs, it also includes shopping, work, sex, gambling and eating disorders. Having an addiction can be defined as being seemingly unable to stop something that is detrimental to the person and/or others.

Addiction has been officially classed as a disease since 1956. This is when alcohol addiction (alcoholism) was acknowledged as an illness by the American Medical Association.

What is the physical impact of addiction?

Addictions cause a chemical effect in the brain. Taking or partaking in the addiction will release what are sometimes called “happy hormones” such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins.

If someone doesn’t like the way they are feeling, they will increasingly turn to what they have discovered will change how they feel. This “high” and the fact that it masks painful or unbearable feelings can soon result in the addiction.

It becomes a habit. But it’s like digging a hole into a deeper, darker and colder place.

Over time though the amount of whatever it is will most often need to be increased. This is because its physical effects will get more tolerated by the body – so the dose or usage needs to be upped to get the same results that were originally found to “work”.

As well, just because someone is using such as alcohol or marijuana to repress something like a trauma doesn’t mean it will have gone away. In fact it won’t – and these things tend to get bigger inside us as they keep attempting to rise to the surface of our consciousness.

In desperation a person who is addicted to one thing will up it or increase the amount of time they spend on that addiction. They may look to try something else as well, which is why so many addicts suffer from cross addiction.

How addiction can be beaten

We have found that one of the most effective methods is one-on-one therapy as we offer here to all our guests. This involves talking through things from the past and in the present.

It means resolving any unresolved histories as well as introducing such as (CBT) cognitive behavioral therapy and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy). These are proven therapies that help with turning negative thoughts and behaviors into positive ones.

We always offer personalized treatment plans at Tikvah Lake that will work best for each guest. These include our 10-Day Executive Treatment and 30-90 Day Personalized Treatment programs, that can include an introduction to the 12 Steps addiction recovery method.

Since their conception in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) more than 80 years ago, the 12 Steps have helped millions of people around the world. Originally used and worded to help alcoholics they have since been adapted to help other addicts as well as people struggling with other mental health issues.

So there are solutions, and millions of recovering addicts are living proof that addiction can be beaten. But the addict must first admit they have a problem – and then have the desire to stop and stay stopped.

What can the partner of an addict do?

Of course if you realize your partner is an addict you will want to help them. But it pays to be aware of the difference between helping and what is known as “enabling”.

Enabling is when someone tries to protect the addicted person from the repercussions of their behavior. It’s also doing things for an addict that they really could do for themselves if they were not stoned or drunk.

The question to ask should always be: is this helping or is it merely allowing them to continue with their addiction? So, for example, if they lost their license from driving while drunk, do not run them around everywhere, especially to the shops for more alcohol or to the bar.

For partners of alcoholics, the organization called Al-Anon is useful. It will offer guidance as well as help you connect with others who have been or are presently going through a similar situation.

Another vital thing to do is to set boundaries with the addict. This is to safeguard both of you.

Boundaries need to be specific, easy to understand and possibly with a time limit. For instance: “If you take that drug again you will need to move out of this house within the next 24 hours.”

If a boundary is put down, you have to ensure you will follow it through if need be.

They should not be issued as threats. Try to speak always with the language of the heart. 

Remember that the addict is most likely not a bad person at all, but they are someone who is unwell. This is not to let them off from behaving badly or in an irrational manner.

But it is to get an understanding that no one chooses to be an addict. There is always a reason.

As a partner of an addict you should of course encourage them to seek help to quit. That could involve gathering for them useful phone numbers, things to read or watch and someone helpful they could talk to about quitting their addiction.

But it must be remembered that you are powerless over them. You could walk them to the door of a rehab center for instance – but only they can turn the handle and walk through the door, as only they can fix themselves.

We are very experienced in helping people who are addicted to alcohol, drugs or any behavioral addictions. Contact one of our experienced team today to find out exactly how we can help.

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David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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