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Living with an Addict and dealing with their Addiction

Updated on May 1, 2016

As someone who has been in relationship with addicts, and even lost a loved one to addiction, I made it an important part of my life to understand addictions and their cycles. This hub explains many of the things I have learned to keep myself emotionally healthy and mentally strong amongst addicts and their addictions.

People can be addicted to many things. The addictions we most often think about are drugs and alcohol. However, an addiction can be any kind of a physical or psychological dependence that a person turns to in order to avoid feelings or situations that have become too painful or overwhelming for them to face.

The consequences of an addiction may include damaged physical health, damaged relationships and profound emotional suffering. A relationship with an addict also becomes a relationship with their addiction. Often times the partner will contribute to addicts’ behaviors by making excuses for the addict or by protecting the addict from the consequences that their addiction abuse brings on. When friends, partners or family members take the consequences on themselves, it will only serves to set them up as a victim to the addict and their behaviors.

Addicts will not stop their addiction abuse simply by someone loving them more or protecting them from their fall outs. In fact, this may serve to fuel their addiction even more. Why would they stop doing something that receives more rewards than punishments? Addicts will only stop addictions on their own terms and usually when it has personally cost them enough (when they hit their personal bottom). If you are in a relationship with an addict, gaining help and addiction support through rehab or a therapist may be quite beneficial for you both. But since an addict may not get the help they truly need, it helps to recognize the traits of an addict and how you can protect yourself from being pulled too deeply into their addictive cycle. They will only get help when they see the reality of their problem and no amount of saving or attempts to rationalize with the addict will help them see their situation any differently than how the choose to do so. As difficult as it may be, you may have to distance yourself from the addict and allow them to contend with their own outcomes. (I mean this for adult addicts. Of course we should step in to help our minor children in any way possible if they have addiction problems.)

If you are close to someone with an addiction, it is good to understand what may lead to their addiction abuse. An addiction is a physical and psychological dependence on a substance or behavior. You may recognize someone who has an addiction as being fanatical or obsessive or “needy” of an individual, belief, substance, behavior or idea that creates an escape from their own life’s problems or pain. Understanding the signs of addiction can help you to make sense of what’s going on and to follow advice, such as the ones below in your dealings with the addict.

When you are around an addict, it is important to realize how dysfunctional relationships can be with them. Addicts have a dysfunctional relationship with their self first and then with others as a result. They may have dysfunctional views about their own bodies, such as not feeling comfortable in their own skin; in their mind, such as confused thoughts about certain topics around them; their emotions, such as perceived fears and restrictions, and their inner spirit, such as not feeling good enough in their existence or pursuits. Because they have dysfunctional relationships internally, they also have dysfunctional relationships externally. If they are not able to respect or accept themselves, how can they possibly provide love, acceptance or respect to others? Understanding this can be beneficial in how we interact with an addict. Instead of taking their interactions personally, we can realize that they are really portraying how they feel about themselves on to others around them. Which is why they have the need to numb out and avoid those feelings through their addiction; even though this ultimately only serves to create more failure, regret and defeat for them... thus, keeping the cycle going.

When you hear an addict portray the role of "the victim," realize that this is a problem with addicts and their addiction abuse. It is best not to argue with them, because their sense of reality is deeply skewed. It appears that no matter what the situation is; they will portray themselves as the victim ... as if they have been the one hurt or wronged most in any situation. This goes hand in hand with the dysfunctional relationship with themselves, but can also be a way of manipulating others to give them sympathy, and to do for them what they should be doing themselves. In other words, rather than take responsibility for themselves and their actions, they dump those responsibilities on someone else. If we understand this trait of an addict, then we can better understand what we can do to make them responsible for themselves. By taking responsibility for themselves, they can improve their feelings about themselves and begin a different trend and possibly break down their addictive cycle.

If you deal with an addict, you may frequently hear responses of their denial. D.E.N.I.A.L. (Do Not Even Notice I Am Lying) is the primary psychological symptom of addiction. Realize that this is an automatic and unconscious component of an addict. Addicts are often the last to recognize their disease. Sadly, many addicts continue to act out on their addictions, and blame everything and everyone around them for their addictive habits, behaviors and problems; even while their world collapses around them. Denial is one of the reasons why forcing the addict into rehab treatment is seldom effective. An addict cannot work on a problem unless they personally come to terms with its existence. Understanding this can be beneficial to those who interact with an addict as we can realize that we should save ourselves the frustration of arguing a point that we just won’t win; remember that an addicts perception of reality is deeply skewed. It’s best to just remove them and their situation from us and let them find the reality on their own… that is, if they ever do. However, interventions may be a beneficial form of addiction support as the addict will hear everyone else’s concerns, experiences and perspectives in one setting, which may or may not be a wake up call for them.

Find your boundaries when dealing with the addicts’ behavior and then be consistent with these boundaries. The best thing you can do for yourself and for the addict is to make them take personal responsibility for their actions and the consequences that come with it. Decide what behaviors you will not accept from the addict and what consequences they will be responsible for once they do cross those boundaries. Release yourself from being personally responsible for them and allow them the opportunity to be personally responsible for their selves. It is very important that you always make sure that you take care of yourself and your well-being. The number one person on your list should always be you!

If you choose to continue close interactions with an addict, get help for yourself. Whether the addict is addicted to substances or activities such as drugs or alcohol, sex, gambling/gaming, food, abuse/anger, shopping, porn, etc, there are counselors and support groups that can be quite helpful for those who have relationships with addicts. There are also books and information online that can help you to understand more about addictions and how to develop healthy boundaries while interacting with an addict. Be sure to also look into resources of codependency, which is described as a need to take care of others that feed the addictive cycles and may further result in destructive relationships. Above all, do not allow yourself to be alone in dealing with an addict. Never let go of your supportive friends and family members, and seek out further help from those who can provide addiction support to you and help you be strong with the addict so that you can take care of yourself.

An addict’s behavior may also be similar to obsessive compulsive traits. In order to know how to handle a compulsive/ addictive type behavior, be sure you know whether the behavior is OCD or an addiction; as they require different types of interactions to deal with their conditions.


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    • profile image

      John 6 months ago

      Brilliant, thank you, answered a lot of questions and gave me hope for our son.

    • profile image

      Kim 4 years ago

      This is so unbelievably good. It seems I looked for months for something written so well and so informative. This hits the nail on the head

    • profile image

      Multiman 6 years ago

      Great article a helpful to me since one of my family is an addict. Voted up.

    • Mary Merriment profile image

      Mary Merriment 6 years ago from Boise area, Idaho

      Thank you for sharing your own experience Niki. I would say the "shaking things up" is where putting new boundaries in place can be beneficial. From my experience, getting firm with your own direction and boundaries will either strengthen the relationship as the addictions get off their routine cycle, or the addict will choose to leave. In my mind, either way is better than where we were!

      You're right about my articles sounding textbook. For some reason it's the way I tend to write. For me it seems easier to explain sensitive issues like this one in that manner rather than getting too personal.


    • Niki Hampton profile image

      Niki Hampton 6 years ago from Oregon

      This is a good, informative article, though feels a little textbook. I am married to a recovering addict/alcohol who was a practicing addict when we met and I was using to "control" my bi-polar. While he did steal from family to buy drugs, he was never violent and within a week we were inseparable, though he has never really been in a relationship. I have previously been married and in many relationships in fact coming from an extremely violent one just before I met my now husband.

      Without getting in to all the details, my husband and I have been clean for almost 6 years (in Sept.) and have been married for 5 years and have 4 children. It's been a rough 6 years together, but I believe the way our relationship started actually bonded us together tighter than a regular relationship may have. A relationship can be tough and though I was only a part of his life for a short time in his battle, I knew it we would come out of it strong. Staying with an addict depends on the situation. If he had been aggressive toward me it would have been a deal breaker. We've also talked about how we would handle if one of us relapsed now that we have children.

      Thanks for your hub. Navigating your love and resentment (often at the same time) of the addict you love can be tough. I hope those out there can find support and clarity in their decisions about this. I hope my sharing showed people there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Not all addicts are a lost cause- his parents and friends couldn't help him. He had never had the love of a women in his life. It took a strong (and bossy) women to shake his ass up! lol And it worked. I wouldn't change our life (including how we met) for anything.