Addiction and Relationships

By George Joseph, LCDC

It is often said those who begin to actively participate in addiction, whatever it may be, alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling, sex addiction or any other type of compulsive behavior, stop growing emotionally. I know in my case, I began abusing alcohol and drugs in my teen years and it negatively impacted my emotional growth and ability to communicate my emotions in a positive manner.

With all that said, how does this affect our dealings with those around us prior to recovery and while in active recovery? Obviously during active addiction it makes relationships crazy and almost impossible to maneuver for both those who are addicted and those who care for them. 

Those who care for them typically start to become addicted to the addicted person and try any and all things to control and or change them. They think this type of control is to make the addict better, and often it makes the relationship worse. It often enables the addicted person to not hit a bottom and have the possibility of getting well or a complete divorce from the situation. The addict wants to divorce themselves from those who try to hold them accountable so they can continue to foster their addiction. They typically want those who will enable them around during the addiction process.

How about relationships in recovery? These are also very challenging. The addict is programmed to have the active substance or process as the primary focus in his or her lives. What happens in recovery is usually the focus changes to a higher power or God and hopefully to a 12-Step recovery program. This sometimes isolates those who love the addict, and they can become resentful of this change. 

It is often reported that 9 of 10 married woman who seek addiction treatment and stay sober for an extended period of time get divorced. Why do you think the divorce rate is so high? My suspicion is that the husband is less likely to get involved in support programs and resents the attention their wives get in and give to their 12-Step programs. Also remember because the addict’s emotional growth was stunted when the active addiction started, they face many challenges for healthy relationships.

I was taught later in my recovery that an intimate relationship should follow the following stages:

  • Acquaintance
  • Friendship
  • Intimacy
  • Commitment
  • Sex

Most new people in recovery are not familiar with these stages. Most go from acquaintance to sex. There is a joke in recovery, “How do you know 2 people from 12-Step programs are going on a second date together? There is a U-Haul trailer being pulled behind the car since they are ready to move in with the other.”

Addicted people are compulsive and easily go for the quick physical or emotional fix or excited about meeting someone and often miss these steps, thus never setting a good foundation for a healthy relationship.

How do we really get to know each other? I think the popularity of Facebook is because people want to be connected without the verbal communication or time needed to really get to know someone. It is often safer to say things on Facebook or thru email or text because we are afraid of rejection. Addicted people tend to be even more sensitive to rejection than the non-addicted person.

How do we learn to improve relationships while in recovery? The first 4 steps can be applied to all relationships less the sex step for the non-sexual relations. These steps should be followed in order of progression to develop strong and meaningful bonds.